Saturday, October 17, 2020



The search for meaning in the NBT Evening News show of Oct 17, 2020


by Phil Cunningham 



The evening news on this tumultuous day of citywide demonstrations in Bangkok is introduced by a pair of skilled news anchors, one male, one female, who give a brief traffic update before seguing into he politics of the day.


The background montage features the Thai flag unfurled with various politicians clustered in the background.



Photographs of Prime Minister Prayut and Deputy Prime Minister Prawit are central to the montage, and it’s an appropriate visual at this juncture because calls are growing for the current government to step down.


The NBT news report doesn’t say as much, it’s a state news service after all, but a distinct discontent with the Prayut government can be discerned in the framing of the news.


In an hour-long broadcast, the prime minister got exceedingly little air time, the lion’s share of which was devoted to “illegal” street protests. Since protests were banned, and coverage of the same strongly discouraged, to lavish such intense coverage on the protests is itself a quiet act of rebellion. Or maybe it’s just good journalism.


What’s more the staid state TV service deployed three reporters to the field and each of them, though prompted to say good things about the police, also gave strong indications that the protesters were behaving in a peaceful, orderly and rational manner.


The PM was left to defend the all but indefensible water cannon attack on a peaceful crowd at Siam Square the night before, and he didn’t do a good job of defending it. The camera cut from him to the file footage and the pictures spoke louder than words.


Protester calls for the prime minister to resign were repeated in the broadcast.


The evening news show is underway. Demonstrations are the big story, but there will also be reports about flooding and a Covid update later in the broadcast.


The anchors discuss transportation woes. They mention that numerous BTS stations had been temporarily closed, but that service would be restored when things quieted down. 


Intrepid field reporter Seksom is on the scene at Ladprao with a camera crew for a live link. He is shown strolling down a road devoid of vehicular traffic. Protesters are milling about excitedly.


He takes pains to note that the protesters won’t let police officials in. Even though they only want to go in to help, protesters won’t grant them access. At the five way intersection of Lard Phrao, “the officers who maintain stability and peace” are nowhere to be seen, just protesters.


Though rather orthodox in his views as state functionary, Seksom's stroll through the crowd creates a visceral “I-was-there” dose of reality. Unfortunately, he is prone to editorialize, and launches into a spirited defense of police actions so far, including the controversial water cannon incident at Siam Square. His intransigent musings get drowned out by crowd organizers with megaphones. 


“That’s the voice of the crowd leadership,” he bristles, then notes that some protesters are wearing helmets and glasses to protect against use of tear gas.


Oh, look. Here’s a performance! He and his cameraman approach a group playing drums, beating upturned pink buckets with drumsticks. The percussive blast fades as the crowd gets instructions from a man with a megaphone is calling on people to move back.  


Seksom continues his uneasy amble through the jumpy crowd.


“This is a live broadcast from Phaholyothin Road,” he says, concluding his impromptu standup. "Protesters are regrouping, going to a designated meeting spot.”


The female anchor asks Seksom about crowd movements but his answer is drowned out by the din of the crowd. “I don’t see any authorities where you are," she follows up. "Who is responsible for safeguarding the peace?”


“No one, none around here. They tried coming in but were blocked. The local police station did some cursory crowd inspection for safety on the periphery but here the crowd is basically guarding itself.”


Thank you Khun Seksom. Now for a look at Bang Na, where Khun Woraphat is on the scene.


“The crowd is swelling,” Woraphat reports. “The starting point was Udomsuk intersection, but it moved away from there, about 700 meters, now near Bang Na intersection. Unlike other protests, there is no sound truck here, but they are using small megaphones to communicate.”


Speaking against a murky background, he says that members of crowd are invited to express themselves by standing up in front of a group to address those gathered. He notes there was a small disturbance at 5pm when they first tried to close down the inbound lane of Sukhumwit. The leaders were worried the police might disperse the crowd at the Bang Na-Trat intersection, so there was a change in course. 


Finally, it was announced that should the police show up, the crowd should leave on their own accord and regather at another time.”


The male anchor puts a query to the reporter in the field. “The leaders have announced that 8pm is the time to go home, at least in other points in town. Is that also the case where you are?”

“Well, I haven’t heard a cutoff time announced here, but as I said, the plan is to disperse if police show up for sake of safety.”

Where are they going next?

“Not clear. The crowd here might go to Central, it depends, if there is trouble, they will go home.”


And it's back to the studio. And now,  a report from Wongwian Yai: 

Khun Patraporn?  


Phone in one hand, mic in other, Miss Patraporn looks into the lens and commences a standup on a busy section of road. “This is near the BTS station…and now you can see the crowd. They are still allowing vehicles to pass, people are mostly gathered near the sidewalk. Things got jammed up near Taksin Intersection for a while."


When asked about the protest leaders, she explains. “Today’s group, what they’re saying, they're saying that there’s no core leadership, only crowd representatives. Everyone’s a leader.”


Wow.  Even the ragtag rebels are beginning to sound like seasoned politicians.


Chants and shouting can be heard on the darkened street. “They are calling for the prime minister to step down,” Patraporn dutifully reports. 


Thank you. Any sign where they are headed next?


“There are various things being said on the grapevine, but I’m on the edge of the crowd, and I can’t get inside, so I can’t say for sure. There’s been some talk of taking it to Wongwian Yai by the statue of King Taksin." 


Loud shouts emerge in background, the signal breaks up

“Thank you Khun Pataraporn, there seems to be a slight technical issue.”


The newsroom anchors turn to each other to sum up some tentative findings. They note the strategy of organizers of breaking the crowd into smaller groups for logistics and ease of movement and give credit to the resolve of crowd not to get into conflict with authorities. They also note that plans are not clear and subject to change according to circumstance. The studio crew cuts back to Bang Na one last time to see if the protesters there are holding ground or dispersing.


Woraphat is still in the field, the murmur of passing voices audible despite the dark background. Yes, they are dispersing now. The leaders told them to go home and prepare for another day.”


Next up is a police presser. Under pressure to explain use of water cannon previous day, they basically say it wasn’t dangerous and was done in accordance with policy. Police must do their duty, given emergency decree, and a stern official reminds viewers that demonstrations are illegal.


“We used a gentle water spray with some added chemicals perhaps, but not at all dangerous. It was on a low-pressure setting. At worst it just soils the skin and clothing.” 


No tear gas was used, the police spokesman emphasized.


Another police official reminds viewers that it is strictly illegal to block or close roads, interrupting transportation is illegal and a serious offense. 


A hospital official reports that five police were injured, hit by rocks and other things, and were in hospital, another ten were lightly injured and inspected on the scene. 


Two protesters were hospitalized for hyperventilation and another for a chemical irritant.


Police doctor dispels rumor


An earnest police doctor cites a story going around on social media about an ambulance allegedly delayed by crowd. He said it was reported that a pregnant mother and child died, but this is incorrect. It was a false report. An older woman was aboard the ambulance and it got her to the hospital and she is fine now.


The police doctor spoke like a true journalist, dispelling an incendiary false report and coolly setting the story straight.

PM Prayut makes a scripted appearance, but only gets about ten seconds of screen time. We don't hear his voice, his message is paraphrased. He is shown removing a blue mask and stepping up to mic in snappy yellow jacket. With file footage of the Siam Square conflict running on screen, he reiterates that the previous night’s crackdown was done in accordance of law and was carried out to prevent extremists from creating a more serious situation.


The Prime Minister stresses that people shouldn’t distort that facts for political purposes, though he seems to be distorting the facts for political purposes himself. While he talks, dramatic and disturbing footage of the water cannon incident at Siam Square is clearly at odds with his own statements.

“No winners or losers,”  Prayut is said to have lamented. “But it’s a loss for the Thai people and the Thai nation.” 


In closing, he asks people to cooperate by not joining protests, which are illegal.

“Trust the government, peace will be restored soon.”