The media coverage, particularly on television, of the Thai army has been peculiarly extensive in recent weeks. Most notably is the fact that the army is being portrayed in an almost exclusively positive light, doing all sorts of public service for the Thai people. Last night, for example, I watched the evening news on Channel 9 and the entire domestic news was focused on the “good deeds” the army was doing all over the country. This included rescue missions in flooded areas of the upper South, security work in the deep South, evacuation and emergency shelter preparation for border-town residents of Surin Province, patrols along the Thai-Cambodian border…the list goes on. I flipped over to another channel and it was the same story.
The army has long been part of the daily life in Thailand. It is indisputable that the main responsibilities of the Thai army stretch far beyond protecting sovereignty and national security to include functions such as natural disaster relief, internal security and animal rescue. While fewer young, educated people join the army today than in the past, being in the army still carries significant prestige among Thais. In fact, the notion that the presence of the army – or its militant culture – has penetrated Thai society in a variety of ways is truer than many would like to admit. Those following Thailand’s entertainment industry would know that the actor who plays King Naresuan in one of Thailand’s most popular (and most expensive) epics – The Legend of King Naresuan – is himself a lieutenant colonel. Scores of contemporary Thai lakorn and movies, such as Wanida, Legend of Suriyothai, Sam Pan Boke, Cha-leu Sak, just to name a few, continue to romanticize men in uniform.
This recent string of “positive” media coverage of the army’s various missions sits uncomfortably with a rumor of a possible coup that is spreading among close observers of Thai politics. Although the army still maintains a good grip on the media in Thailand, in general, it still strikes me as eerily odd that the army seems to be “everywhere” on the news. The seemingly one-sided story of the army’s work stands in sharp contrast to the violent and deteriorating situation between Thailand and Cambodia as well as the continued explosive situation in southern Thailand. I’m not disputing that the Thai army is “doing something”, but why the positive spin on everything they do (despite the outcomes)? Is the army trying to rally public support, via the media, before the election? Why? I fear we may already know their “hidden” agenda.