Is Sorayuth just a diversion?

'Flies will not swarm over other flies." So goes a popular old saying well known within the Thai media which literally means that members of the media will refrain from reporting on the dark sides of their colleagues.

While the press has been split in its coverage of the Sorayuth saga, questions are being raised about graft fighters highlighting his case while ignoring other, more damaging, incidents.

But this has not always proven true in today's colour-coded political divide which has also affected the Thai media and is clearly reflected in the case of popular TV personality Sorayuth Suthassanachinda in connection with the Anti-Corruption Network's campaign for him to step aside.

On Friday, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) sent a circular to all listed companies and capital market organisations asking them to "exercise caution" in dealing with Sorayuth's Rai Som company after the National Anti-Corruption Commission faulted both for being complicit in supporting corruption by public officials.

Sorayuth was accused of conspiring with staff at the Mass Communications Organisation of Thailand (Mcot), which operates television station Channel 9, to withhold 138 million baht in advertising revenue from the state-controlled broadcaster for TV programmes aired seven years ago.

However, the TV personality defended himself, saying that he had already returned the money to Mcot.

The SEC's action is unprecedented and is seen as part of the Anti-Corruption Network's move to pile more pressure on Sorayuth, who is also facing a probe by a subcommittee of the House political and media development committee led by Democrat MP Watchara Petthong.

But the print media's coverage of the SEC's action is more interesting as it has provided an insight into not just how the Thai media of different camps has treated the graft issue, but also how politics may have come into play in the media's judgement on how to treat the news story _ to completely ignore it, to just give it a few inches of space, or to blow it up.

Khao Sod, which is part of the Matichon group, and Thai Rath did not cover the SEC's move in their Saturday editions, whereas the Bangkok Post, The Nation and Krungthep Dhurakij as well as Thai Post splashed the story on their front pages. Matichon and Daily News buried the same story deep in pages 10 and 14, respectively, so that most readers would have missed it had they just glanced through the papers. Post Today had it on page 5, covering half a page.

Earlier, Baitong Haeng, a columnist of the pro-red shirt Prachathai online media, posted a message on his Facebook page criticising the National Press Council and the Broadcast Media Association for its failure to fault Sorayuth for violating the Media Code of Conduct.

In the eyes of the red shirts and supporters of the government as well as deposed former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, the Bangkok Post, The Nation, Krungthep Dhurakij, Thai Post and Post Today are seen as being on the opposite side to the government, whereas the Matichon group and Prachathai are regarded as their allies.

Thai Rath, on the other hand, is regarded as sitting on the fence but tilting towards the government camp.

Because of Sorayuth's positioning of himself in the middle and lack of involvement in politicking - although his critics believe otherwise for his complete lack of any criticism of the government - he could be seen as a government ally and hence the reluctance of the pro-government media to report on the SEC's action.

Matichon Weekly's Oct 12-18 edition reported Sorayuth's case in a way critical of the National Press Council and the Broadcast Media Association for their "kangaroo court" judgement of the TV personality.

The writer also mocked the Anti-Corruption Network for its half-heartedness over boycotting Sorayuth, saying that they might themselves be boycotted by Sorayuth.

The fact that Sorayuth was selectively targetted for the anti-corruption campaign by the Anti-Corruption Network, came about, I believe, because of his social status, which might incite public attention to the corruption scourge.

But whether the choice of Sorayuth for the campaign is fair to the man himself is another valid question that begs an answer.

"Why me?" Sorayuth might have asked in his troubled soul, because there are countless others who are more corrupt than him or have cheated far more from the state than he allegedly has.

The amount involved is just 138 million baht _ which is considered peanuts in today's bloated corruption game in which at least 40% of the value of a project is the asking price from crooked politicians.

Imagine just how much money has been plundered from mega projects which cost tens of billions of baht.

I am not a fan of Sorayuth and do not appreciate the way he freely lifts news stories from the print media and presents them on his news talk programmes as if they were his own.

But at least if he was chosen to highlight or dramatise the evils of corruption by the Anti-Corruption Network, there must be no double-standard in the treatment of similar cases.

Veera Prateepchaikul is a former Editor, Bangkok Post.

About the author

Writer: Veera Prateepchaikul
Position: Former Editor