Taking down Sorrayuth no graft panacea
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Taking down Sorrayuth no graft panacea

Bring me the head of Sorrayuth. Bring me the severed head of the anchorman/briber, newscaster/corrupter, interviewer/public villain No.1. The hero became the anti-hero, and Sorrayuth Suthassanachinda had his head served on a silver platter after the collective wrath of graft-haters smoked him out of his chair. Corruption must be combatted, cheaters must be called out and shamed. Yes, we beat him, we beat corruption! And our weapons in this war are something equally disturbing, such as hatred, polemics and swift, satisfying anger.

Should Sorrayuth leave? Of course. The court found the anchorman and his company guilty of cheating more than 138 million baht in advertising revenue from Channel 9, and of bribing a clerk to cover up the incriminating documents. As a media person, his crime compromised his integrity. As a hard-talking interviewer who had policy-makers and officials on his show, his actions disqualified him from the role of TV interrogator. There was no doubt he should step down, and it was right that he did on Thursday after the outpouring of ire and condemnation from media bodies and moral guardians. One of them described the whole thing as “moral degradation” — as if she had just arrived in Thailand yesterday and didn't know how this country operates.

Bring me the head of Sorrayuth. Also bring me the heads of parents who bribe to get their little kids into top schools (the new term is coming up, so get ready to “donate”). Bring me the heads of the experts who bought GT200, the Holy Grail of military gear. Bring me the heads of the billionaires who busily doctor their ledgers during tax season. Also bring me the heads of appointed officials who appoint their sons and wives as consultants. If there’s room, bring me the heads of other journalists found guilty of criminal charges who still appear in the news. In fact, bring me the heads of everyone and turn us into a headless nation, for that is our fate, so present and inexcusable.

Let’s not get into a hypocritical debate, because one crime doesn’t cancel out another (Sorrayuth should stay home and watch Spotlight, the Oscar’s Best Picture winner about good journalism, or better yet, he should invite the upstanding journalists to join him).

What intrigued me, however, is the intensity of rage projected against Sorrayuth. Why is he so hated? This is a confusing irony since he was supposed to be the country’s most popular anchorman, with his voice playing the soundtrack of our mornings for more than a decade, whether we wanted to hear it or not. Aside from online critics and harsh words from media professional bodies, one of the most vociferous attackers was the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT), a staunch crusader against the evil that plagues our land except when the evil is not, well, so evil. Last year when the ACT put together the Museum of Corruption, a surreal showcase of scandalous kickback sagas featuring Soviet-style sculptures and an interactive website, they included Sorrayuth's case in the catalogue of shame, even though the court hadn’t ruled on it yet. He was judged by the "museum" back then, along with other cases.

One of the war cries championed by anti-corruption fighters goes, “Cheaters must not have a place to stand”. Sure, then all of us would lose our footing. Corruption is named the greatest obstacle to our progress, and the way to fight it, in a sustainable fashion, is to enshrine democratic institutions and strengthen the tools that govern the relationship between the private sector and government officials (Sorrayuth is guilty of paying bribes to a clerk in a state agency, and who knows, maybe to someone else). Corruption, in short, must be fixed through the system, not necessarily through mob mentality and fleeting righteousness mixed with political anger. It should be fought by tightening up the system that still allows us to pay tea money to policemen, bureaucrats, schools and politicians to smooth our path. The system that allows officials to pocket “differences” and that shape our thinking that anything can be fixed if you know the right person.

Sorrayuth’s show is well-known for its rong took section, in which viewers write in to complain about their woes, usually ones that are ignored by state agencies or stuck in a tangle of red tape. It is believed that if your story gets aired on his show, it’s likely that some state official will rush in to help you. Why don’t these people write to the police or to the agencies directly? Well, maybe they don’t know the “right person” who can fix the problem for them. So sure, bring us the head of Sorrayuth, we can rest assured that our society is clean and uncorrupted now.

Kong Rithdee is Life Editor, Bangkok Post.

Kong Rithdee

Bangkok Post columnist

Kong Rithdee is a Bangkok Post columnist. He has written about films for 18 years with the Bangkok Post and other publications, and is one of the most prominent writers on cinema in the region.

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