Twisting the facts

Twisting the facts

The latest advice and warning on fake and distorted news comes from a strange place. The chief spokesman of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) advised that photos being forwarded on social media of last week's royal cremation ceremony are not all what they seem. Maj Gen Pirawat Saengthong said some netizens have been sharing photos of a different ceremony, with only superficial resemblance to last week's emotional sendoff of the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej. He suggested this could constitute lese majeste.

Maj Gen Pirawat was referring to photos of a royal event in December, 2015. His Majesty the King when he was Crown Prince took part in a ceremony to collect the remains after the funeral of the late supreme patriarch, Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara. The event included a procession, with army troops in parade dress. At a glance, certain photos of the 2015 procession resemble last week's funeral for King Bhumibol.

Maj Gen Pirawat is certainly correct that "fake photos" -- and this is his term -- should never be knowingly shared. But his implication that insults to the monarchy and national security are at stake in this case. His brief talk with the media did not include any indication of the key ingredient of fake news: the positive motive. Unless the persons sharing these photos know they are wrongly captioned, it seems a careless or honest error, without intention to deceive. Of course, any knowing attempt to demean the monarchy should be investigated.

That said, Isoc itself and the military regime in general should know fake news when they see it. That is because the government, the junta and its military arms have direct knowledge of such activity. The terms "fake news" and "fake photos" as used by Maj Gen Pirawat seem to cover myriad activities, some innocent, some intended to deceive. Similarly, the regime's information activities for the past three and a half years have often been difficult to fit into a single niche.

Isoc has been complicit in news that was not entirely factual. This applies particularly in the deep South, where Isoc is currently in charge of all government operations. Indeed, Isoc misled the public repeatedly about the treatment of Rohingya boat people. Officers in Isoc information bureaus claimed refugees were looked after, when in fact they were being pushed forcibly back to sea. Isoc's top man on the Rohingya land refugee situation, Lt Gen Manas Kongpan, was helping to run refugee death camps and lucrative shakedowns of the hapless Rohingya. He was not caught by his own colleagues, but by brave policemen, whose leader then fled to Australia in fear he would be killed in retribution.

Presumedly false information that seemed deliberately spread has occurred for the past seven months after the killing of 17-year-old Chaiyaphum Pasae at an army-police checkpoint in Chiang Mai's Chiang Dao district. Officials continue to allege that Chaiyaphum was a drug courier trying to throw a grenade when a single shot by a brave soldier killed him. Eyewitnesses contradict that. Police improbably claim they do not have the software needed to view videos from military CCTV.

Last May, Ambassador to South Korea Sarun Charoensuwan wrote to Cha Myung-seok of the Gwangju Prize for Human Rights. On official Royal Thai Embassy stationery, with the Garuda emblem, the ambassador claimed that chosen 2017 Prize recipient Jatupat Boonpattararaksa "has committed actions in violation of the laws of Thailand". This statement is still false, since Jatupat then was still a suspect and had never even faced a trial.

Maj Gen Pirawat's basic advice to Thais is good. Everyone should try to weed out false and fake information. It is advice that the spokesman and his counterparts in government and the military should adhere to.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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