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.


Burmese boat people abuse accusations: update

Today’s CSM has an informative update (and illustrative infographic) on the accusations that the Thai navy forced Muslim Burmese boat people back to sea in rickety boats with little food or water.

CSM: “Thailand accused of mistreating Muslim refugees

Other stories:

  • AP: “Thai PM pledges to work with UN refugee agency
  • Economist: “Thailand’s Burmese boat people: Cast adrift
  • VOA: “Thailand Denies UN Access to Burmese Boat People

Myanmar Cyclone: Over 22,000 Dead and 41,000 Missing

Myanmar Cyclone [NY Times Graphic]

CNN: “Myanmar cyclone survivors desperate for aid”

More than 22,000 killed and 41,000 missing, Myanmar radio reports
Survivor tells how wall of water left bodies in trees, bushes and streams
U.N. has started getting food aid but so far it is only the first step of huge job
U.S. President George Bush says Navy is ready to help if asked

NY Times: “The Cyclone’s Wake, Seen in Taxi Headlights”

Some firsthand impressions, including messages from Westerners who were in Myanmar when the devastating storm struck over the weekend.

AP: “Myanmar cyclone death toll soars past 22,000: state radio”

The cyclone death toll soared above 22,000 on Tuesday and more than 41,000 others were missing as foreign countries mobilized to rush in aid after the country’s deadliest storm on record, state radio reported.

Up to 1 million people may be homeless after Cyclone Nargis hit the Southeast Asian nation, also known as Burma, early Saturday. Some villages have been almost totally eradicated and vast rice-growing areas are wiped out, the World Food Program said.

AFP: “Aid workers race to reach Myanmar cyclone victims”

Aid workers battled Wednesday to get food and water to desperate cyclone survivors in Myanmar, whose government is under fire after more than 22,000 people died in one of Asia’s worst natural disasters.

More than 41,000 people are also missing, but the United Nations said foreign staff were still awaiting visas from the secretive military regime — which said outside aid workers needed to “negotiate” to enter the country.

Bangkok Pundit has more information.