As one who works in the media profession, I feel disconcerted seeing an 80-year-old "social critic" who is championing citizens' right to criticism and freedom of speech, standing at the forefront against the roaring army chief and daring to tell him that it's not right to tell people who disagree with him to go live somewhere else.
I thought the duty of standing up against repressive authorities and of challenging the establishment belonged to the young and hungry, to people who are pursuing truths, to those who practise journalism as a profession.
The reality, however, is following the controversy over Thai PBS's broadcast of a landmark debate on the role of the constitutional monarchy in its Tob Jote Prathet Thai programme, few people in the journalistic profession have come out to support the embattled station and show.
Indeed, voices of opposition to both Tob Jote and Thai PBS for deciding to air the five-part series seem to be louder from within the profession.
It raises the question of what has happened to the perception of the press as being a bastion of progressive force, the pursuer of truth without fear or favour.
Worse, some people have begun to question if the press here has ever stood at the forefront and led a fight against any form of oppression in recent times.
It's true that the press, just like any association of people or professions, has been deeply divided by the red-yellow political conflict of recent years.
That rift, which already carries an overtone of devotion to the monarchy, is one reason why the press has been seen as either taking sides in the political conflict or practising self-censorship more than ushering in unbiased, independent views that will lead people out of the entrenched strife.
It's true that since the 80-year-old social critic Sulak Sivaraksa was one of the four guest speakers in the controversial Tob Jote programme, it's natural for him to defend the political talk show and his role in it.
Still, that does not mean what the octogenarian has to say is not what society needs to hear.
In fact, what Ajarn Sulak said _ that Thai PBS was showing its moral courage when it decided to air the Tob Jote debate because the information and argument, as sensitive and controversial as they may be, will help Thai people protect the monarchy better, along the rightful, democratic way _ is exactly what people in this profession should be saying.
I feel there is no need to discuss reactions from our supposedly idealistic youngsters and students, because there have been none. They are probably too busy selecting what new applications to download for their smartphones or checking out the latest trends on Instagram.
It's disconcerting to see how Thai PBS chief Somchai Suwanban and Tob Jote programme host Pinyo Trisuriyadhamma have been virtually abandoned, "shot at every which way in the midst of Thailand's conflict", as Pinyo put it in a poem he wrote after the programme was severely criticised by army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha last week.
Not only is Thai PBS left to defend itself against ultra-royalist protesters gathering at its headquarters, but the station chief and Tob Jote host have also been targeted by overzealous deputy prime minister Chalerm Yubamrung, who vowed to study transcripts of the programme himself and prosecute any of the show's speakers or host if they were found to have violated the law.
National police chief Adul Saengsingkaew was apparently just as eager to find fault with the programme, ordering every police station in the country to be on alert to take up complaints against Tob Jote. He also set up a committee of 50 investigators to review the programme's five episodes and demanded that it send a progress report every 30 days.
Amid these many threats, I do not see many people except Mr Sulak daring to argue against the chiefs. Gen Prayuth has no right to expel people who think differently to live in other countries, because Thailand is not his. Besides, it's through criticism that improvements can be made, as Mr Sulak said.
As for the army chief's suggestion that the best way to live with the lese majeste law is to avoid violating it, Mr Sulak said that would be true if Gen Prayuth wished people in the country were like animals, tamed and caged.
"People with conscience are bound to defy any law that is unjust. If they disagree, they can argue and discuss but it's no good trying to silence one another."
But why is it that Mr Sulak seems so alone in talking back to the chiefs?
Atiya Achakulwisut is Deputy Editor, Bangkok Post.
About the author
- Writer: Atiya Achakulwisut
Position: Deputy Editor (Day)