Sunday, June 30, 2013

White Masks hold their 5th rally

The White Masks gathered for the fifth time this afternoon at Rajdamri Intersection. Reporters say protestors wearing white masks were also
holding rallies in 41 other spots around the country, including those in Hong Kong, Australia and the USA.
The gatherings to express their dissatisfaction with Premier Yingluck's government and former PM Thaksin Shinawatra were peaceful. There were no apparent leaders heading the protests. They simply read out their statements against the government and dispersed.
Analysts say the government has been surprised by the spread of the White Mask phenomenon and one of the reason for the wide-ranging Cabinet reshuffle seems to be related to the fact that the White Mask protest isn't just a passing fad.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

From legacy journalism to digital media

At our Convergent Newsroom, every report, however small or trivial, about the global trend about the media is discussed with great interest. As Andrew Grove of Intel once said in his famous book “Only the Paranoid Survive,” we make it a point to tell everybody in the newsroom to deliver and analyse “bad news” before digesting “good news” especially if it is directly related to the future of journalism.

It was therefore with a mixed sense of trepidation and consolidation that we read last week the report in the Economist under the headline: “Like the sun, newspaper circulation rises in the east and falls in the west.”

It was from a World Press Trends report that usually collects masses of data about newspaper circulation and revenues in over 70 countries. Circulation has fallen modestly from 537m in 2008 to 530m in 2012, but that masks huge regional variations. The report makes for particularly gloomy reading if you happen to be employed by a newspaper in America or western Europe. Since 2008 circulation in America has fallen by 15% to 41m while advertising revenue has plummeted by 42%, accounting for three-quarters of the global decline in advertising revenue in the same period.

In Europe, the report says, circulation and advertising revenue have both fallen by a quarter. And revenues from digital sources such as websites, apps and so on have not made up the shortfall. Digital advertising accounts for just 11% of the total revenue for American newspapers.

But further east, though, things look brighter. Circulation in Asia has risen by 10%, offsetting much of the decline elsewhere. With 114.5m daily newspapers, China has surpassed India to become the world's biggest newspaper market.

Thailand’s case is somewhere in the middle. Our circulation is holding up but revenue from our broadcast side is growing. Our strategy is towards “convergence” – a strong base for print with an aggressive new media business model, strongly backed up by our digital broadcasting plan.

A new book entitled “The New Digital Age” by Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google and Jared Cohen, director of Google Ideas, in one way, confirms my belief that news organizations will remain an important and integral part of society in a number of ways. Sure, many outlets won’t survive in their present form – and those that do survive will have adjusted their goals, methods and organizational structure to meet the changing demands of the new “global public.”

It has become increasingly clear for our newspeople that reporting duties will undergo significant changes. As the book suggests, the role of the mainstream media “will primarily become one of an aggregator, custodian and verifier, a credibility filter that sifts through all of this data and highlights what is and is not worth reading, understanding and trusting.”

As I look into the future of how we will be operating as professional journalists, our role as “verifiers” will become even more important than today. Apart from enhancing our ability to provide cogent analysis of current affairs, journalists in the digital era will be an important source for news consumers to rely on for their professionalism in curating, aggregating and filtering the massive swell of reporting and information in the system.

As the authors suggests, “Ideally, the business of journalism will become less extractive and more collaborative; in a story about rising tide levels in Bangkok, instead of just quoting a Thai river-cruise operator, the newspaper would link its article to the man’s own news platform or personal live stream. “

In our daily debate on the major transition from legacy to digital media, we intend to do more than that. We will explore ways to integrate all the new voices in society and create communities, both online and offline, to pursue a truly digital world of journalism where everybody can be a reporter, consumer and activist.

But above all, no matter how fast and dramatic the latest information technology develops in the future, the most crucial tasks of our journalists remain unchanged: to do the serious work of journalism in a serious manner, be it investigative reporting, exclusive interviews, explanation of complicated events and, above all, to serve as the conscience and soul of society.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Tawil-Yingluck face-off gets complicated

Expect a drawn-out battle between Premier Yingluck Shinawatra and Thawil Pliensri, the former secretary general of the National Security Council, demanding to be returned to his former post. The Administration Court last week ruled that the premier must give him back the previous position.

Several complications are bound to emerge. For one thing, the premier isn’t likely to comply with the court’s order immediately. Thawil was a tough-talking bureaucrat who mounted a relentless campaign against being transferred from his NSC post to become an adviser to the prime minister. He wasn’t considered “one of us” within the Yingluck government who almost immediately upon taking office replaced Thawil with an “insider” – Lt Gen Paradon Pattanatarbutr.

Thawil fought the case with vehemence. He claimed that the transferred was carried out unfairly and that he had done nothing wrong to deserve the move. The premier had said the transfer was aimed at “boosting the efficiency in implementing government policies because Thawil was well versed in national security affairs and would be able to better serve the government as adviser to the prime minister.”

Thawil took the matter up with the Administration Court, seeking a return to the post, citing unfair practices.

The court’s verdict sided with Thawil, the premier’s official reason for the transfer did not match real action. Part of the ruling read:

“The position of NSC secretary general carries a higher degree of responsibility (than those of a premier’s adviser) and the incumbent could offer advice to the prime minister (without having to be transferred anyway…”

The court also ruled that the transfer had been carried in violation of normal practices which state that recipient unit must initiate the move by seeking the superior’s approval before putting a written request to the work unit of the person involved. That process apparently wasn’t followed.

Once politicians are in power, they tend to think they could move bureaucrats around without having to comply with the established rules. Or perhaps, the premier might have been ill advised, having just taken over office, as to how to reshuffle technocrats around without facing court cases.

Technically, Premier Yingluck doesn’t have to comply with the court’s order immediately. She has the right of appeal – and there is little doubt that she will pursue that path. Accepting the verdict without putting up a fight would entail further problems. Several other prominent bureaucrats who have complained about being edged out of their positions for “political reasons” have lodged similar complaints. Those who haven’t done so may be emboldened by Thawil’s case.

Thawil himself has made no secret of his desire to encourage others in a similar situation to follow his example. He told reporters: “My advice to government officials who have been maltreated the same way not to submit to political pressure. If they are bullied, don’t go down on your knees to ask for mercy. That would not futile. They should follow the procedure available to them. That means to fight. To win or lose is another thing. Bureaucrats shouldn’t fight among themselves. In most cases, it’s the politicians who bully officials…”

Another possible complication is related to the fragile ongoing peace talks with representatives from Barisan Revolusi Nasional (BRN). The Thai official delegation is led by the current NSC secretary general, Lt Gen Paradon Pattanatabutr. The fact that the incumbent may have to vacate his seat to make way for his predecessor’s return has thrown a spanner in the works.

Opposition Democrat Party’s deputy leader Thaworn Senneam has already called for the postponement of the peace dialogue until the government resolves the uncertainty over the leadership at the NSC. The premier will have to decide how to handle this highly sensitive issue that has both domestic impact and regional consequences.

It’s a Catch-22 situation for the premier. If she doesn’t appeal the verdict, her political clout would be dented. If she does, Thawil is set to mount his second attack. He says he will take the case to the National Anti-Corruption Commission if the premier decided to appeal “in order to protect myself from further persecution.”

Either way, the battle promises to be a long, painful one

Saturday, June 1, 2013

We are a nation without Plan B

Energy Minister Pongsak Ruktapongpisal says the May 21’s power blackout in all 14 southern provinces was “unavoidable.” He put the blame on a natural occurrence: lightning striking a high-voltage transmission line that supplied power to the South.

Then came the warning from energy officials that because of the lack of power plants, a similar breakdown of power on a regional scale could hit the Northeast and even the capital, Bangkok.

The two official explanations – technical and natural accidents – obviously don’t answer the crucial question: Where was Plan B?

Even if we were ready to accept all the official reasons cited for the country’s worst power breakdown, there is still no guarantee that a repeat of the scary “Southern Total Blackout” would not take place.

It’s even more frightening when you suddenly discovered that Thailand had always been in such a vulnerable situation. All the “what if” questions immediately surfaced. What if some terrorists had detected the “power vulnerability” of the country’s energy supply system? What if lightning had struck in other parts of the country at the same time. What if a “human error” had added to the “technical trip-up?” What if the total blackout had taken place on an election evening?

Let’s assume we accept all the explanations given so far by the government:

- Power produced in the South doesn’t meet the local demand.

- The incident was not part of a conspiracy to stage incidents to support the policy of building coal-fired power plants.

- The blackout wasn’t related to the energy minister’s earlier warning of a widespread blackout because a natural gas facility in Myanmar that supplies Thailand’s power plants was under maintenance.

- The blackout wouldn’t have been so widespread had it not been for the fact that the system was running on a automatic mode. Had the system been handled manually, the power failure would have been on a more limited scale.

Still, the main question remains: Where was the “contingency plan” and where did the buck stop?

No heads have rolled so far. Accountability doesn’t appear to be high on the political agenda.

The national malaise of the lack of “Plan B” affects not only the energy sector that this particular incident has underscored. It pervades the whole political and social spectrum. And that’s the main reason why we have been stuck in the mud for so many years.

There is no “contingency plan” for a country caught in a conflict that has plunged the country into an abyss from which we have yet to emerge. We now hear calls for “going for broke” from the ruling politicians to ram through the constitutional changes and an amnesty bill that have stirred new controversies.

The ruling elite have Plan A to get what they want. We aren’t sure what would happen if the “going-all-the-way” strategy backfired, triggering a “political blackout” that covers the whole country. In that case, it would not be possible to put the blame on a natural occurrence such as lightning. There is no Plan B to avoid a potentially disastrous confrontation.

The government’s controversial and highly expensive rice pledging scheme has been a glaring Plan A to “raise the living standards of poor farmers.” Now, despite the fact that the plan has floundered and could incur the tax-payers huge losses, there is no “contingency plan” to beat a tactful retreat. There has never been a Plan B either.

Before the next disaster, be it energy, political or superstitious issue, strikes, we badly need a Plan B in place for every major endeavor in the country.

The risk of being unceremoniously hurled from Plan A to chaotic Plan Z is simply too high to be acceptable.