In a week of diplomatic faux pas, a prominent state organization in Thailand attempted to publicly take sides with Russia amidst the Russian invasion of Ukraine, only to capitulate, having abruptly canceled its partisan press conference without a proper explanation. This was followed by a visit to the Ukrainian Embassy hours before the cancelled press conference.
We are not talking about the Thai Foreign Ministry here, even though at times they could be clumsy, calculated, lacking in moral courage, and Janus-faced.
The Foreign Ministry should, in fact, be commended for at least joining 139 states on early Friday morning in voting at the United Nations for the resolution on “Humanitarian consequences of the aggression against Ukraine,” which calls for the protection of Ukrainian civilians and aid access to Ukraine.
Thank you, the Foreign Ministry, and I am not typing these words with any iota of sarcasm despite our differences on a load of other issues – you folks are on the right track on this one as only five nations voted against, well four not countering Russia itself, while 38 abstained.
The very public diplomatic faux pas was in fact committed by an organization which is part of a state within a state in Thailand – the army-run and army-controlled TV Channel 5. TV5 is one of the major half a dozen free TV stations in the kingdom.
We first saw its president, Gen. Rangsee Kitiyanasap, visiting the Russian Ambassador to Thailand Yevgeny Tomikhin on Monday, handing Tomikhin a gift hamper and discussing foreign news sharing plans among others.
It was then followed by an announcement on Wednesday of a press conference by the station’s management to launch foreign news sharing “cooperation” initiative with state-controlled Russian media as well as those from China’s CGTN and Iran. No mention of Ukrainian media was made and there was no embassy visit.
The hours following the announcement of the presser (which did not include a cooperation with the North Korean Central News Agency, by the way) was followed by a barrage of angry online criticisms and accusation that the station is partial towards Russia and its allies, China, and Iran.
By Wednesday night, multiple sources confirmed that the press conference slated for 2pm Thursday has been indefinitely postponed without any formal explanation.
Well-known military-beat reporter Wassana Namuam confirmed on her Facebook post Wednesday night that the army-run station came under criticism for Rangsee’s attempt to “balanced American/Western media” with contents from Russia, China, and Iran and “thwart fake news,” so Thais can “receive the right news and information” about the war in Ukraine.
It’s clear that the Ukrainian Embassy in Bangkok was a non-entity from the beginning in the eyes of TV5 executives until late that night. It was not part of the original partners for the sharing of foreign news by TV5.
That changed after heavy criticisms and who knows who might have rung Rangsee and instructed him to embark upon a damage control mission by visiting the Chargé d’affaires of the Ukrainian Embassy the following morning. This is a state-run TV station after all and the station’s chairman of the board is no less than the army chief, ex officio.
By Thursday morning, Rangsee paid a visit to Ukrainian Chargé d’affaires Olexandr Lysak. Lysak told this writer on the phone Thursday afternoon that TV5 has agreed to also broadcast news from the state-run Ukrainian media and gave him a gift hamper.
On air, TV5 announced that Ukraine is now also a partner in its news-sharing cooperation, but its newscaster falsely stated during its noon news program Thursday that it was Lysak who went to see Rangsee.
This, despite the fact that the news broadcast showed the meeting between the two with the unique spire of one of the buildings at the All Seasons Place complex on Wireless Road, where the embassy is located, visible in the background, it was probably an attempt to minimize the loss of face suffered by the station chief, if not an outright misinformation or fake news by the station which said it is worried about fake news.
Rangsee then said on TV5 that the station is doing this to balance the news about the war in Ukraine after all as they can get news from these countries including Russia and China “for free,” unlike the two million baht of news content paid annually to Reuters.
I personally have no qualms if any private TV station wants to relay news from Russia’s RT 24/7 or China state-run sources round the clock. They have the right to do so. And people should be treated as adults and be able to decide by themselves what they want to watch and believe.
The problem is TV5 is army-run and state-controlled, partly taxpayers funded, and they committed a grave diplomatic faux pas when they initially excluded Ukraine from the news sharing cooperation – which was against the current stance of the Thai government to remain neutral on the matter.
TV5 is not a private station, it’s part of the Thai state. Actually, calling TV5 a state-controlled media, as labelled by Facebook on the station’s page, is rather inaccurate and misleading since the Thai army is a state within a state, with a penchant for military coup making.
Thus, TV5 is a state-within-a-state-controlled media. That may seem confusing, but the reality is confusing, and Thailand continues to put up with having the army running a major free TV station with the salaries of these senior military officers in charge paid by taxpayers, while in fact they should simply stay inside the barracks.
Army-run TV5 is first, a propaganda tool for the Royal Thai Army, and second, a propaganda tool of the state.
Thai generals fancy themselves doing more than what their supposed job descriptions specified, so they fancy themselves being junta-appointed senators, junta-appointed board members at various state enterprises, coup makers, unelected prime ministers, and in the case of TV5 and its top executives like Rangsee, broadcasters.
No wonder Thailand remains under the shadow of the military and is in a very confused state. The latest blunder from TV5 was just one example.