TWO veteran foreign journalists, Andrew Drummond and Nick Nostitz (British and German respectively), have decided to leave Thailand and return home after both having spent over two decades working in the country. The two writers rarely wrote about similar issues; Drummond’s unique investigative work focused mainly on foreign criminals working in some of Thailand’s more vice-orientated hotspots, while Nostitz, working as a writer and photographer, concentrated mostly on Thailand’s political divides, delineating fly-on-the-wall accounts of those affected by the ongoing social disharmony between supporters of various political factions.
Drummond wrote in an article on his own website on January 17 that his reason for leaving was “a direct threat to the safety of himself and his three children from foreign criminals in Thailand working in liaison with the Thai Police and Thailand’s Crime Computer Crime Act.” He added that he will continue investigating stories but that, “if I am to continue to function as a journalist it must happen outside Thailand’s borders.”
Drummond told Asian Correspondent that he had become a “thorn in the side” of a multi-million dollar scam that he says was being openly operated with the collusion of Thai authorities. Along with Alan Morrison and Chutima Sidasathian of Phuketwan, and migrant worker activist Andy Hall, all of whom have been charged with defamation (the case was dropped against Hall in 2014) following stories they published on human rights abuses happening in Thailand, Drummond has been supported in statements by the British Ambassador and the European Union. Nonetheless, he expresses on his website that statements alone are not enough to protect him and the lives of his three children. He has also had to fight numerous court cases against many of the people he has investigated, and while he has “successfully defeated a tranche of cases”, he says the cases are taking their toll. He writes that he has worked as an investigative journalist in Britain, the United States and Australia without being sued once, but defending his investigations in Thailand has become untenable as alleged criminals bring the cases against him are not subject to paying courts costs if they lose. Referring to this he writes, “Thailand’s inability to take criticism, and its greatly flawed justice system, are major handicaps to its progress.”
Of Thailand’s dubious progress apropos present government reform Drummond said, “Contrary to public opinion the military government’s supposed anti-corruption drive is very selective, and the government has disarmed the tools such as the DSI and National Human Rights Commission. I am also party to army misbehavior and should I even be invited to return I suspect I would not be comfortable acting as a journalist in Thailand where truth is a rare commodity and to tell it can bring dire consequences.”
Nostitz’s apparent misdemeanor working as a journalist was to be viewed as an opponent of the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) movement whose anti-government rallies were held mostly in Bangkok in 2013/14. Nostitz was beaten at one of the rallies after he was accused of being a red shirt supporter by protest leader Democrat MP Jumpol Chumsai. Later, in May 2014, Nostitz also came close to being abducted by men were thought to be PDRC guards.
In spite of his love for Thailand Nostitz told Asian Correspondent that like Drummond the wellbeing of his family is his utmost concern, not only because of the threats to him, but also concerning how his 10 year old son might integrate back in Germany if he left the move any later. Taking a pragmatic view of things he says that being a freelance journalist has become difficult, and supporting his family almost impossible. “What has compounded my problem is that the PDRC has targeted me,” he says, “The only times when we can make money is when something happens that is of interest to international media, such as the PDRC protests.” While threats against him after the coup seem to have diminished he says that there are many assignments he cannot take, including any work in Southern Thailand, basically putting him more or less out of a job.
Much of the enmity against Nostitz may have partly been because some of his work was translated into Thai (an uncommon occurrence), and that his writing about Thailand’s rural poor was misconstrued by his detractors as him being a partisan Thaksin Shinawatra supporter. Although the ire inspired against him can be blamed mostly on certain powerful people stirring up hateful sentiments; of these people Nostitz states, “The ones responsible for my situation have so far made no attempt to clear the situation with me, even though several organizations and individuals tried to talk sense to them.”
The two men’s forced departure from Thailand, whether readers agreed or disagreed with their work, is a blight on the country, a country in which men both worked for the public interest. Whether mortal, or financial, or both, intolerance towards work exposing rampant criminal activity, or attempting to illustrate in words and pictures Thailand’s political schism, is inarguably intolerance towards social progress. Nostitz expresses his feelings concerning his forced farewell saying, “Of course it breaks my heart to leave Thailand, but there is just no other choice”; Drummond issues similar sentiments about a country that he says has been “good to him”, but notwithstanding death threats he also admits he is worried his children would “not be brought up with the right principles” if they were to be educated in Thailand.
There are of course many people that will benefit from the country’s loss, and whose stab at working with impunity or under less media scrutiny, will become more of an entrenched reality. It seems anyone writing against the swell of Thailand’s common narratives, upturning old stones, shedding light on commonly accepted inequities, is at best risking penury for themselves and their family, and at worst running the risk of jail time, or seemingly death. If self-censorship because of these very serious threats is to be fine-tuned to the point of journalism becoming less the truth, or a shadow of the truth, and more a paralyzed projection of it, then the Thai media might well as admit it is defunct, a superannuated entity that, like many journalists I know these days, has begrudgingly moved into the marketing milieu to save its own skin.