Fake news runs rampant in land of smiles

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha arrives in Sa Kaeo where he chaired a mobile cabinet meeting late last month. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)
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It looked like a Potemkin-scene remake and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha was the star player.

I don’t know whether he knew or approved it, but the tap he was shown to open to let clean water flow into a concrete tank for a photo op was fake, in the sense that it was arranged specifically for the occasion and then shortly afterwards withdrawn.

The few power poles and electrical wires that existed at the scene of his much-publicised visit were fake as well — they too, were taken down shortly after his visit ended.

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But even if he didn’t know, I am sure most of the guests, including the media and the 63 landless farmers who were presented with land rights certificates by the prime minister, were duped.

They were not told in advance that all the public utilities were there just for show.

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The scene is Village 14 in tambon Nong Muang, Khok Sung district of Sa Kaeo province.

The date is Aug 28, when the prime minister visited the village as one of the highlights of his mobile cabinet meeting upcountry that began in Nakhon Ratchasima.

It should be noted that, prior to this mobile cabinet meeting, media outlets were engaged in a conflict with the office of government spokesman Lt-Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd. He allegedly dictated which TV station would follow which minister during the field trips after the cabinet meeting to ensure not only the prime minister, but also the other ministers, were covered and had their images shown while doing their jobs on TV.

The media organisations, especially the Thai Journalists Association and the Broadcast Journalists Association, were irate, accusing the government of interfering in the performance of their duties.

The media’s reactions prompted Lt-Gen Sansern, who is also acting director-general of the Public Relations Department, to say he had no intention of interfering with the media and that each TV channel could do as it wished without following his dictation.

The falsehood was first discovered by the landless farmers in Village 14. But it took them a few more days after the prime minister’s visit to complain to local media.

One of the land recipients, Pim Termpan, said the day after the prime minister’s visit the power poles erected in the village were removed and the electrical wires collected by officials. Moreover, the tap water ran dry.

Mr Pim further complained there was no water for their 63 head of cattle, which were presented to each of them under the Pracharath state and people partnership programme.

He said they could not carry on with building their own houses because there was no electricity and, at night, they had to light bonfires for the safety of themselves and cattle.

Khok Sung district officer Worapat Khamsuwan said only three model houses have access to electricity and running water, and various authorities would provide the utilities to the villagers later on.

Again, Lt-Gen Sansern had to say it was “a misunderstanding on the part of the villagers”. But he assured them electricity and running water would be supplied to the village at a later stage.

Sa Kaeo governor Klanarong Pongchoroen called an urgent meeting with the 63 villagers on Saturday to clarify that the electricity and the running water services they witnessed during the prime minister’s visit were just a temporary measure for the event.

But he assured them they would get electricity in the next two months. The provincial irrigation office will arrange for the sinking of an underground water well and a generator to produce electricity, he said. The villagers were reportedly satisfied with the governor’s explanation. But for now, they will have to wait.

The case is considered closed for the government and officials concerned. In hindsight however, it reflects the typical bureaucratic penchant for a cosmetic approach to please their superiors from Bangkok.

Why couldn’t the organiser of the visit tell the prime minister the truth about the village — that it was not ready due to an issue with the utilities? Or perhaps recommend an alternative site?

This should serve as a lesson for anyone who is acting responsibly for arranging similar trips for the prime minister.


Veera Prateepchaikul is former editor, Bangkok Post.

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