A promotional image of TOP News.
A promotional image of TOP News.

Boycotting products to achieve a political goal has become fashionable in Thailand of late. But when the target is a news agency, no matter how yellow the paper is perceived to be, in the end, it’s doing more harm than good to society.

TOP News, a new right-wing ultra-royalist online news, has become the latest target. Businesses perceived to be supporting TOP News were targeted earlier this week. MK Sukiyaki and Yayoi restaurant chains were specifically targeted because they were among the big sponsors of the news organization.

The hashtag “ban MK and Yayoi” in Thai language trended on Twitter on Tuesday with over 200,000 mentions.

I got caught in the crossfire when I tweeted that while I respect the right to boycott products for political purposes, I will not join the campaign as I stand for press freedom.

What’s more, such practice against media firms will likely do more harm than good to Thai society in the long term.

In any free and democratic society, diverse views and information are vital for members to be strong and mature. People have to be confronted with opposing views and information that challenge them and their belief and learn to coexist with those who may vehemently disagree with them politically.

Those boycotting MK Sukiyaki and Yayoi restaurants accuse TOP News of spreading fake news and inciting political hatred. As long as they are not telling their viewers to physically attack those from the opposite political camp, I say we should learn to be as tolerant as possible and laugh at whatever anachronistic views TOP News may be espousing.

This is because we all have differing opinions on what might constitute fake news, extremist views or dangerous opinions that constitute a threat to our version of an ideal society.

The government has already censored books, blocked some websites and people are being put in prison for expressing negative views about the monarchy. The last thing we need is for people trying to make sure that there will be no space for what they see as unpalatable or offensive.

Imagine asking all Thai adults what news agency, websites, books or social media accounts should be blocked or banned and we may end up with an aggregate that amounts to the censorship of 90 percent of political contents that we have, across all political spectrums. Put it simply, what may be right to you may be wrong to others, and vice versa.

What’s more, attempting to make certain that some media organizations cease to exist will weaken the public in general because it is based on the mentality that people are too vulnerable and must be protected from these “false” and “incendiary” right-wing views and information. You cannot expect a society to become mature if you keep trying to censor contents that you think are too risky or dangerous.

Doesn’t any of the people engaging in the latest boycott not notice that on the other extreme of the political spectrum, some ultra-royalist Thais also support the censorship of any news content and views deemed as a threat to the monarchy institution? Ultra-royalists and conservatives also believe that some news agencies critical of the monarchy, operating locally or abroad, should be blocked or banned.

The long-term solution is not more censorship, state or people-induced through boycott, but to have faith in people’s abilities to differentiate fact from fiction, fact from fake news, reasonable views from that of rubbish views, instead of trying to undermine the diversity that should be expected from any free society.

Have faith in people. Have faith that people are mature enough to be exposed to lies, misinformation and extreme views. This is how society will sustainably learn to appreciate political moderation and civility.