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Cablegate: Thai Media Sides with Opposition During Censure Debate

VZCZCXRO8666
RR RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #2021/01 1842341
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 022341Z JUL 08
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 5412
RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 3584
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 002021

DEPT PLEASE PASS EAP/PD, EAP/MLS, DRL
PACOM FOR FPA

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PREL PGOV KPAO TH
SUBJECT: Thai Media Sides with Opposition During Censure Debate

REF: BANGKOK 1951

BANGKOK 00002021 001.2 OF 002


SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) The recent censure debate over the performance of Prime
Minister Samak's administration has swept the headlines with
virtually all local Thai print and broadcast media outlets
dedicating significant space and airtime to readouts on the daily
action in the House. Local print dailies devoted large portions of
their June 25 - June 27 editions to coverage of the speeches and
commentary from the floor, while many of the national television
stations aired live coverage throughout the day from the
parliamentary debate sessions. The dispute over Preah Vihear
temple, located on the Thai-Cambodian border, remained in the
spotlight of all coverage. Nearly all media outlets seemed to favor
the opposition party in the debate, including Thai Rath, the most
widely circulated print daily in Thailand, which nearly always shows
support for the government in power, including the embattled Samak
administration. End Summary.

CENSURE DEBATE DOMINATES THE NEWS
---------------------------------

2. (U) Local Thai coverage of the recent censure debate over the
performance of Prime Minister Samak's administration dominated both
print and broadcast media. The majority of print dailies, as well
as television and radio talk shows, devoted significant space and
airtime to coverage of the daily parliamentary sessions. Front page
exposes, complete with full color photos and virtual play-by-play
readouts of the debate action, were featured in the June 25 - June
27 editions of nearly all print dailies. Live coverage from the
floor of the Parliament was featured throughout the day on many
national broadcast outlets, including state-owned NBT (formerly
Channel 11) and TV Thai, Thailand's first and only public
broadcasting service.

3. (SBU) The dispute over Preah Vihear was clearly the most visible
and hotly debated issue, taking center stage in the media (Ref A).
Headlines in the June 25 -June 27 editions of nearly all leading
local print dailies made direct reference to the Preah Vihear issue
and lead editorials focused solely on the government's controversial
actions over this extremely sensitive dispute.

MEDIA PLAYING FAVORITES; SIDING WITH OPPOSITION
--------------------------------------------- --

4. (SBU) Media coverage of the censure debate has been anything but
unbiased and balanced, with the majority of media outlets clearly
taking sides with the opposition. Print media, which has always
been known to openly criticize the government and enjoys a
particularly antagonistic relationship with Samak himself, has come
out fighting against the current administration. The brunt of the
punishment has centered on the shoulders of a few, particularly
Foreign Minister Noppadon Pattama, with Samak receiving some hard
hitting blows as well. For example, the June 25 edition of Khao
Sod, a popular Thai-language print daily with a circulation of
approximately 700,000, ran the headline "Abhisit, Samak Exchange
Heated Debate; Noppadon Injured." The same day's edition of Kom
Chad Luek, another widely read Thai-language daily with a readership
of about 800,000, ran several articles in which Prime Minister Samak
and Foreign Minister Noppadon were harshly criticized on their
performance in the House debate.

5. (SBU) Some media observers have expressed concern over the clear
bias demonstrated towards the opposition in recent media coverage.
During a casual conversation at a June 25 lunch, the business news
editor from Thailand's leading English-language business daily, The
Nation, told AIO that she was dismayed at the way that the local
media was covering the debate, saying it was "very bad that they
were taking sides with the opposition," reasoning that the media
should be providing more balanced reporting on such an important
domestic political issue.

AND THE TWIST
-------------

6. (U) In an interesting twist for local Thai print media, Thai
Rath, the most widely read print daily in Thailand (readership of
approximately 1.5 million) known for its consistent lean towards
whichever government is in power, including the embattled Samak
administration, came out against the government in this latest tete
a tete with the opposition. Its June 25 edition ran headlines about
Democrat party leader Abhisit's deft attack on the Samak
administration and contained an article that criticized Foreign
Minister Noppadon, saying he was not in "good shape from the start"

BANGKOK 00002021 002.3 OF 002


where the Preah Vihear temple was concerned. On June 26, Thai Rath
also ran a lead editorial reading, "At least this censure debate
will remind the Royal Thai Government of the responsibilities and
priorities it must set."

COMMENT
-------

7. (SBU) Although the local Thai media, particularly print outlets,
have been known to openly criticize the government, we have rarely
seen the fervor with which they have shown their disdain of late.
It appears that the Samak administration has hit a particularly
sensitive nerve with its controversial treatment of the Preah Vihear
dispute, and not even the press has remained immune to the
nationalistic sensitivities it evokes. On this issue in particular,
and on the censure debate as a whole, the media has clearly taken
sides and given this round to the opposition. End Comment.

JOHN

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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