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Friday, November 05, 2010
Flood relief without terrible singing
Guess what's missing while our country's being hit by the worst floods in living memory? Three hints: TV, money and the terrible singing of big shots.
That's right. It's those televised fund-raising stints sponsored by the government whenever we've been hit by major inundations or any other natural disaster.
Not too far back, that was the common custom, the done thing. Whenever the country suffered Nature's wrath, a number of big shots accompanied by diamond-studded society ladies would line up to take turns crooning in special TV fund-raising programmes. The more powerful they were, the larger the network of people they commanded, hence the more money their "admirers" would pledge _ to show their loyalty, of course.
The big shots' singing skills, however, almost always never corresponded to their status and power.
To prevent viewers from changing channels, rows of actors, actresses, and anyone who was someone in the entertainment industry, were on hand to take phone calls from donors. The names of the donors would be announced to let the country know who the kind-hearted were. The higher the sum pledged, the more successful the government's fund-raising effort appeared. It did not matter how much was really collected. Or how it was really spent.
Thank goodness, that is now history.
Instead of a centralised state effort, we now see private citizens at the forefront of disaster relief operations, from collecting funds to site surveys and on-site distribution.
Armed with smart phones, computers and video cameras, they use modern communications technology to pool resources and build an efficient relief network to meet the victims' real needs.
Long live the volunteer spirit!
Gone also is the practice of business executives presenting cheques to powerful politicians on those TV fund-raising programmes.
Since the beginning of the current flood disaster, private businesses big and small have set up their own donation collection centres and are doing the relief distribution themselves.
Is the government weaker, or is the private sector simply getting stronger?
Are state mechanisms inefficient, or has society become too diverse for a centralised bureaucracy to cope with? Or both?
Despite its public relations efforts, the government's relief operations are many steps behind that of private volunteers and businesses, which have been quicker to answer the victims' diverse needs. For the latest information on the flood situation and how to help the victims, people with internet access go to www.thaiflood.com set up by the private sector, and not to the government or mainstream media.
TV remains a crucial force. But it is not rallying around the PM or government bigwigs any more. TV news anchor Sorayuth Sutassanajinda is the man of the hour; he has mobilised mass donations in a jiffy, braved the floods to distribute relief bags, saved pregnant cows from drowning, and helped bring an injured toddler to safety.
Even former PM Banharn Silpa-archa patiently queued up to meet Mr Anchorman, to give his donation, which of course was seen on television by the entire country.
Much has certainly changed in our society's psyche. But the traditional elite are holding fast to their old power turf. In the face of leaked video clips which have shaken the Constitution Court's credibility to the core, the judiciary responded in the only way they knew how, in order to silence critics: by threatening them with contempt of court.
And despite the deep political divide, the military and police bosses have declared in unison that anyone breaching the lese majeste law or questioning the royal institution will be seriously dealt with.
An open society armed with modern communications technology has come to our rescue in a time of natural disaster. But we have also witnessed its destructive force, when harsh political suppression is the response to the lack of political consensus in an open society.
The once acceptable glitzy TV fund-raising shows would today be scandalous. The once submissive people now no longer put up with the bigwigs' atrocious singing. Unless the ruling elite realise this change, they cannot hope to win in an open society.