Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Bangkok resident's criticism of CNN sparks outrage

On March 14th at 12:25pm the blogger at Siam Report wrote,
"Just watched CNN update. Dan Rivers seems to lean towards the yellow [pro- government] position: Thaksin runs the whole movement--the puppet master with the money bags; protesters are there for money not democracy. . ." (via therelive).
On May 18th Bangkok Pundit blogged, "Suthichai at The Nation has tweeted 'this open letter to CNN is เด็ด (really good).'   The letter, from Bangkok resident Napas Na Pombejra to CNN International, was posted on Facebook. Following is a quote from the letter:
Recently, CNN Thailand Correspondents Dan Rivers and Sarah Snider ... have NOT done their best.... All of Mr. Rivers and Ms. Sniders' quotes and statements seem to have been solely taken from the anti-government protest leaders or their followers/ sympathizers...
Bangkok Pundit observed, "The letter quickly spread through Facebook and Twitter."  BP then examined the claims made in the Napas letter, concluding:
"It is hard to critique this as she doesn't point to any particular report. You know when you critique someone, you usually quote what you think is wrong with something, but she just asserts something without backing anything she states up.... Now, perhaps she is right that CNN's coverage is "one-sided, shallow and sensational half-truths", but she does not demonstrate this."
When Siam Report alleged pro-yellow shirt (pro-government) bias on the part of the CNN reporter, the blog described a specific incident.  If anyone wanted to examine the claim made by Siam Report, conceivably one could track down this evidence.  Such is not the case with respect to the vague allegations made by Napas.

In respect to their quality, the accusations levied against CNN by the Thai letter-writer and her supporters are familiar.  In fact, it seems like déjà vu to me.

In the spring of 2008, Chinese netizens attacked CNN for its coverage of the Tibet protests/riots. The incident prompted some bloggers to found a website (Anti-cnn.com).   Was the group's criticism valid? "Having looked at the evidence, I found the Chinese netizens' case for Western news media bias to be largely unsubstantiated," I commented at the time.  Later, introducing the work of a German fact-checker of Anti-cnn.com to readers, I noted:
I have been severely critical of the movement because I believe the claims made by the group far exceeded their evidence. It's a pattern which has been repeated in the Chinese blogosophere where one unsubstantiated claim after another is now being leveled against individuals, culminating in vicious personal attacks against Grace Wang, foreign journalists, and a Chinese newspaper editor. Chinese netizen attacks have recently been launched against France and its largest retailer.
By the time I wrote those words, the netizens' charges against CNN had broadened to include the Western media generally, and culminated in a rising tide of Chinese nationalismCould something similar happen in Thailand?

To be sure, there are several striking parallels between China in April 2008 and Thailand in May 2010. In both situations, central state authority is tested by a popular movement from the periphery, there is pervasive government censorship of the media, and criticism of foreign media is spearheaded by well-off young people loyal to the central authorities.  During the coming weeks in Thailand, as happened in China, social media could serve to galvanize support for the center.

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