Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bloggers fisk for answers


ON SEPT 2, the Bangkok Post reported: “(Thai) Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont said yesterday the general election scheduled for Dec 23 could be postponed if “other factors” were taken into account.”

That night, Bangkok Pundit posted: “What are these ‘other factors’ that General Surayud is referring to? Shouldn’t the media be asking hard questions and demanding a better explanation? Was he referring to the same thing as General Sonthi (Boonyaratkalin, the Sept 23 coup leader)? No doubt the Bangkok rumour mill will not stop.

“Can one surmise that if the Bangkok media don't ask, it is because they know it surrounds a certain subject that we can’t discuss? Or are they just too lazy or subservient to Surayud?”

Welcome to fisking, which is a blogosphere slang that means taking apart – sentence by sentence – someone’s story and pointing out where it is wrong.

And fisking is a favourite technique of Bangkok Pundit, an anonymous blogger who comments on Thai politics and the insurgency in southern Thailand in
Blogging incognito allows the blogger to comment on most matters without worrying about consequences.

“For example, Thailand isn’t Burma, people can criticise the government. For a small fish like me, I’m worried that someone in the government might take a dislike to what I write and use laws such as the Computer Crime Act and lese majeste against me,” Bangkok Pundit explained.

The blogger’s fear is justified.

Recently, two Thais were arrested by Thai authorities under the Computer Crime Act for making comments deemed offensive by the monarchy.

Asked who Bangkok Pundit is, the blogger replied: “A person who works in South-East Asia and spends a large amount of time in Thailand.”

For the record, contrary to speculation by some of his readers, the blogger states that he/she is not under the payroll of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former Thai prime minister.

Though shielded by anonymity, Bangkok Pundit rarely blogs on the royal family.

“Which is disappointing as there are so many rumours (about the royal family) and commenting will shed some light whether they are true or just patently false,” explained the pundit.

“Sometimes, I try to provide some cryptic comments but there is so much danger – you can be charged under lese majeste.”

Bangkok Pundit started the blog because he/she found the level of political news reporting by English-language Thai newspapers such as The Nation and Bangkok Post not up to standard.

“They do have good coverage. But there are times when their coverage is lacking compared with what the Thai-language newspapers report,” said the news junkie.

Blogging is also an outlet for Bangkok Pundit to express political views, as face-to-face discussion on the subject in polarised Thailand (that is divided into Thaksin lovers and haters) can turn ugly.

“I’ve friends whose sole source of news is the Manager (Phuchatkan Rai Wan, a Thai-language daily newspaper founded by anti-Thaksin media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul) and they think that Thaksin is the reincarnation of the devil and to comment that the coup was maybe not the best thing will see us end up in an argument,” the blogger said.

Since Bangkok Pundit’s first posting, Stupid Test Message (a trial entry), on Jan 24, 2005, the blog has grown bigger than the blogger expected.

On average, the blog receives 300 to 500 readers a day and during “live” blogging on breaking news such as the plane crash in Phuket, it hosted 1,500 to 2,000 visitors.

“It is growing. Sometimes I hear people commenting about my blog without knowing who I am. That’s strange,” the blogger said.

On the impact of the blog, which is among the handful of English-language blogs on Thai politics including The Siam Sentinel (, Thailand Crisis ( and Thailand Jumped the Shark (, Bangkok Pundit acknowledges it is minimal.

“But not to overstate my importance, the calibre of my readers are those who follow Thai politics closely from Washington DC and government agencies in US and other countries, and Bangkok-based diplomats and journalists,” the blogger explained.

What’s the political pundit’s take on the date of the Thai general election?

On Thursday, the blogger e-mailed: “As it stands now, I would say there is an 80% chance that it will take place on Dec 23.”

(Published in The Star on Oct 27, 2007)