Cablegate: Media Coverage of Thai Crisis, October 7-10: Black

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1. (SBU) Summary: Media coverage of Thailand's worst street
violence in 16 years has been extensive and pervasive. Print media,
televised news coverage and internet blogs each have their own spin
on the October 7 violence as they join in the "blame game" that has
played out in the public arena. Over the last three days of
coverage, print headlines have conveyed a sense of sympathy
predominantly for the protesters, while broadcast news coverage
tended to be more balanced. The greatest divide in opinion (and
most emotion) was conveyed through discussion in the online
community. End summary.

2. (SBU) Comment: The public reaction to the October 7 violence
should be placed in the context of Thai history and social attitudes
towards institutions, the police in particular. The dates October 6
and October 14 have been seared into the Thai consciousness for over
a generation, "Black Octobers" with the blood of students/civilians
in the streets of Bangkok after military crackdowns of pro-democracy
movements in 1976 and 1973, respectively. Media references this
week to "Black October" are a conscious echo of those landmark
events in late twentieth century Thai political development. In
polls covering social attitudes of Thai institutions, the Thai
police consistently rank at the bottom in terms of societal trust
and respect. Many Thai see Thai police as bribe takers, not
upholders of law and order, predisposing them to think ill of the
institution. Thailand's current crisis differs in one respect from
past incidents of violent social unrest, the most recent occurring
in May 1992, "Black October" part III is being debated on the
internet, allowing thousands of (mostly) affluent and young people
to argue over the crisis. End Comment and Summary.

Newspapers: Arrogant Tyrant to Blame

3. (U) Print press coverage of the violent events of October 7 has
been highly critical of the government's handling of the crisis,
which erupted when police used tear gas to disperse anti-government
protesters blocking access to parliament buildings where the Prime
Minister was scheduled to announce his policy plan to Parliament.
October 8 headlines pointed the finger of blame for the deaths and
injuries squarely at the RTG, while being sympathetic to the
protestors. On October 8, the tabloid-style Thai-language Daily
News ran the headline "Riots Kill Two, Scores Injured by Police
Crackdown." Another tabloid-style Thai-language daily Kom Chad Luek
headlined "Black October! Police Uses Tear Gas to Disperse Crowd
Causing Two Deaths, 400 Injured; Cold-Blooded Somchai Walks Past
Wounded People to Announce Policy in Parliament." The elite,
influential Thai-language daily Matichon made note of the monarchy's
sympathy for the protestors running the headline, "Riots All Day,
Two Deaths, More than 300 Injured; Queen Concerned, Donated Money to
Help Victims."

4. (U) Lead editorials and commentaries in several Thai-language
dailies voiced disapproval about what they characterized as
"excessive force" used by the police to disperse the anti-government
People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protestors. On October 9, all
major Thai-language dailies continued to criticize the manner in
which the authorities responded to the face-off between protesters
and police, including voicing disapproval of Prime Minister
Somchai's explanation that the police crackdown of PAD on October 7
was in keeping with international norms.

5. (U) Coverage in most dailies seemed to approve of the "social
sanctions" employed by doctors at eight medical institutes who
declared that they would not treat policemen and soldiers in uniform
and the case of a Thai Airways captain who refused to let three MPs
from the ruling People's Power Party (PPP) board his airplane. One
sensational headline from the anti-government, elitist daily Naew
Na, read "Arrogant Tyrant Says Order to Kill People Legal," while
Matichon went with the more subdued banner of "RTG Boycotted;
Doctors Refuse Treatment; Thai Airways Declines Services to PPP
MPs." All lead editorials and some commentaries suggested that the
government should set up a body to investigate the incident
thoroughly and called on Prime Minister Somchai to dissolve the

Television: Overwhelmed Police

6. (SBU) In contrast to the print media, which has a varied
ownership, most broadcast stations are government- or army- owned,
if not controlled. Not surprisingly, television news coverage of
the October 7 violence has been less incendiary than that of
newsprint and, relatively speaking, has provided a more balanced

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account of the events though coverage did vary. Channel 7, Channel
9, and state-operated NBT prime time news tended to air more footage
that showed images of PAD protestors on the offensive with the
police. While Channel 3 and TPBS strived to provide more balanced
coverage, giving airtime to the government, the PAD, the opposition,
academics, and the general public. Army-operated Channel 5, covered
both government and PAD accounts with limited commentary, though
more airtime has been given to the explaining the government's
position and accounts of the events. (Note: In some instances, it
appeared that individual outlets attempted to present a neutral
stance through much of their coverage, but personal biases of some
on-air anchors against PAD's actions crept in to their respective
news commentary, tainting the tone of some individual reports. End

Internet: Fanning the Flames in Cyberspace

7. (SBU) The more freewheeling nature of the internet has provided
opportunity for sympathizers on both sides to express their outrage.
The overall tone in the blogosphere reflected overwhelming anger
and despair from both sides( e.g. pro-Thaksin supporters and
anti-government PAD sympathizers). Among the hot topics being
discussed online were the use of tear gas by the police, police
statements that mini-bombs carried on the bodies of PAD protesters
were to blame for the serious injuries and deaths, and the refusal
by some medical professionals to treat policemen in uniform.
Images, some extremely graphic in nature, were liberally posted.
Comments on both sides of the argument were emotional and filled
with hatred, many of them underscored with the use of strong

8. (SBU) Posts on, which clearly leans toward the PPP and
former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, were overwhelmed with pro-police,
anti-PAD commentary. Netizens in this forum claimed that the
injuries and death were caused by "friendly fire," not the police
and alleged that PAD had instigated the clash. Images posted to
this blog showed injured policemen and PAD members carrying various
types of weapons. All were accompanied by comments on PAD's overt
brutality and use of force against the police. A surge of negative
comments about the ineffective, corrupt Thai judicial system popped
up in the aftermath of the court's October 9 decision to drop
treason charges against PAD leaders were dropped.

9. (SBU) In contrast, online forums like, which is
part of the larger Manager Media Group owned by PAD leader Sondhi
Limthongkul, and PAD's own website,, painted a very
different picture of the October 7 incident. Discussions on these
websites painted the events as blatant acts of brutality and
excessive force by the police and the government. Considerable real
estate was also dedicated to glorifying the young, female PAD
supporter who was killed in the clash, calling her a "heroine."
(Note: This is in contrast to other pro-government leaning for a
like that extended no sympathy at all, saying it "served
her right." End note.) Several images of what appeared to be
police with mini-bombs in their hands were posted, as well as
policemen throwing what bloggers claimed were hand grenades.

10. (SBU) Activity in pro-PAD blogs on October 10 included harsh
criticism of the United States after an AFP article, quoting press
guidance, reported that an anonymous U.S. Department of State
official asked Thailand to respect the rule of law, calling on
protesters to peacefully express their opinions and not to obstruct
the work of the elected government. Several bloggers on
opined that the U.S. should not comment on internal politics,
although they generally agreed with the comment.

11. (U) Bloggers on non-partisan sites generally condemned the Thai
Airways pilot who refused to fly the PPP MPs, and the medical
professionals who refused to treat injured policemen in uniforms for
being unprofessional and unethical. They also opined that PAD
protesters themselves were not using peaceful means to address the
conflict, and commented that it was possible that the alleged bombs
were from the PAD side, not the police.

© Scoop Media

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