Thai media coverage of the Rohingya refugee issue

It’s interesting to note that the Rohingya boat people story is receiving scant coverage in the Thai media. This despite many stories in the international press that have drawn attention to the accusations over the last week. And yesterday, a CNN investigative report (which I mentioned here) showed new images that seem to confirm that hundreds of Rohingya people were abused and then towed out to sea with little food or water and cut adrift.

But Bangkok’s two English language newspapers are running very little material on the situation. The op-ed section of today’s Bangkok Post, for example, contains the following:

  • The Post‘s editorial about Thai Airways’ financial troubles.
  • A Bloomberg column about the media in South Korea.
  • A guest column about what 2009 might hold in store for Myanmar (Burma) — although the subject is domestic politics, not the plight of Rohingya refugees. (This is not a criticism of the column; the Rohingya issue didn’t fit the scope of the piece.)
  • A Post column about the level of customer service offered by Thai retailers.

Today’s op-ed section in the Post does, however, contain this Reuters column, which is about PM Abhisit’s connection to the Thai military. (The column doesn’t appear on the Bangkok Post Web site, but it’s available via the Reuters link above.)

The following passage helps illustrate the issue of media coverage — or lack thereof — of the Burmese refugee story here in Thailand:

In the short-term, political fallout for Abhisit is likely to be limited, with much of the domestic media portraying the incident as legitimate defence of the borders against potential “Muslim terrorists” in the insurgency-plagued far south.

Similarly, defending foreign Muslims has never gone down well with Thailand’s nationalist and overwhelmingly Buddhist voters, and Abhisit’s star is riding high after the turbulence of 2008, with some commentators even comparing him to Barack Obama.

Yet the episode, and his knee-jerk shielding of the army, has echoes in Thailand’s recent history and makes him look ominously like his nemesis Thaksin, condemned as a serial rights abuser during much of his time in office.

After 80 Muslim demonstrators suffocated to death in the back of army trucks in the southern village of Tak Bai in 2004, Thaksin refused to reprimand the army, and even suggested the men died due to weakness caused by Ramadan fasting.

At the time, analysts explained his comments as an attempt to appease generals even then showing signs of the dissent that would lead to a coup two years later.

In Abhisit’s case, it looks to many analysts more like repaying a favour.

Meanwhile, over at the Nation newspaper, the site doesn’t appear to be running a single story about the Rohingya issue.

And finally, if you haven’t seen the CNN video from Dan Rivers, it’s worth a look. You can watch it here.

Published by Newley

Hi. I'm Newley Purnell. I cover technology and business for The Wall Street Journal. I use this site to share my stories and often blog about the books I'm reading, tech trends, sports, travel, and our dog Ginger. For updates, get my weekly email newsletter.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. incredible … so sad … can’t believe the thai military would be this cruel! … perhaps there is more to this story that we are not seeing or know about … -a