By Pokpong Lawansiri
* Note: This entry wasn’t written to fuel animosity between the nationalities mentioned.
Last week, I attended a forum by Thai Netizen Network (TNN), a coalition of media practitioners, NGO activists, and independent web users. TNN is deeply involved in the promotion and protection of internet freedom in Thailand. Among the speakers was the webmaster of the Manager website.
It should be noted that the Manager website, together with the ASTV station and PooJadKarn (Manager) newspaper, are official mouth pieces for the yellow shirt People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).
During the height of the PAD protest in 2008, these media viciously attacked anyone who questioned PAD demands and tactics. Many were targeted, from public figures such as Prof. Nithi Eaewsriwong and Prof. Thongchai Winichakul, to Dr. Prabhas Pintoptang, for daring to criticize the “democratic movement”. The PAD media relentlessly ridiculed these people, using all platforms.
At the TNN forum, the Manager’s webmaster said that a mechanism has been created where all comments made on the website are screened before they are published. He said that this move was a response to challenges brought about by the Computer-related Crime Act.
I thought that, despite contradicting the freedom of expression, this method might work for the Manager. It was, after all, an attempt to prevent abuse. And abuse has happened on many occasions in the websites – for instance, there were cases where the personal information of people they didn’t like (i.e. their phone numbers, personal address, email, etc.) were posted on sections in the Manager website where people could post comments. One individual had to move house after receiving threatening phone calls from the readers of the Manager website.
It seems that this method has been implemented. I recently came across a news article in the Manager’s website about the tragedy in Phnom Penh where almost 500 Cambodians were killed in a stampede. The latest figure is reported by the BBC here.
To my disbelief, I saw the following comments (at the end of the article):
”This is good, since this can decrease the numbers of beggars in Thailand” (Comment 122).
”I would like to express my congratulations to what happened” (Comment 115).
“They stepped on themselves like animals. This is so disgusting. Cambodians’ lives are useless” (Comment 96).
“Have fun counting” (Comment 77).
“What do you expect in the brains of this developing country? This is not to mention idiot leader that is pulling in all the benefits for his family. It is good that they are dying, so the world will be lighter” (Comment 73).
“Hahaha! I am very satisfied” (Comment 70).
Why were these comments allowed to have been published in the website? These remarks constitute a clear violation of human dignity and disregard of human lives.
This is hate speech at its worst.
I wonder if the Manager website and “those on top of the Manager” are prepared to publicly apologize to relatives of those who have perished. If they are consciously turning a blind eye to what’s happening in the website, then it means that they see nothing wrong with degrading comments which poke fun at the deaths of hundreds.
Pokpong Lawansiri is a Bangkok-based activist and researcher. He was educated in Thailand, the United States, and the United Kingdom. He can be found on Twitter at @mrpokpong