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Fake News, Real News, Fake Deaths – and a Panicky Thai Gov’t

People queue up for COVID-19 vaccines at the Bang Sue Grand Station on July 31, 2021.

If you cannot control COVID-19 outbreak, then try controlling people’s perception about the outbreak instead. This is what the government of Gen Prayut Chan-ocha is desperately trying to do.

Fake news and even some real news are now effectively banned after an order was published in the Royal Gazette Thursday night. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) has been ordered to track fake news and pull the plug by suspending its internet service to the IP address and report those behind it to the police. This power,casted doubt by some legal experts whether it’s constitutional or not, is part of the current power exercised under the emergency decree.

But that’s not the end of it, even non-fake news “that may cause public fear” or “causing panic” among the public to the point where it affects “state security” or peace and order are being  banned as well under the same order.

As if the regime couldn’t sink lower, a police spokesman on Thursday warned people not to fake collapse and COVID-19 deaths on the streets. This came after a week of widespread daily photos and video clips of people collapsing on the streets of Bangkok here and there while others watched in horror, waiting for first responders equipped with PPE suits to come first as bystanders refused to help fear becoming possibly getting themselves infected. Now the government and some of its supporters accuse its opponents of literally staging the sudden collapse and death on the streets to spread fears and panic. (If you are not paid to collapse and fake to die on the streets, my advice is you better not recover for you could be prosecuted as they suspect your collapsing was fake.)

Now, let’s start with the “fake deaths” on the streets. As of press time, the police have failed to arrest anyone despite claiming that there’s a conspiracy to stage and spread fears and panic. Until that’s done, I would have to give the benefit of the doubt to the disturbing photos and videos of those collapsing and in some cases dying on the streets as true. Violators could face up to two years in prison and/or a fine of up to 40,000 baht. (Incidentally it was Prayut himself who told related officials to ensure no one dies on the streets. Was Prayut a victim of fake news and staged sudden collapse and death on the streets as well?) 

Now back to banning fake news. The best way to deal with fake news is to counter it with factual news, not by empowering a semi-independent state organ such as the NBTC, perceived as very docile to the government, the power to decide what websites or IP addresses could be chopped and censored. Such power with no oversight could be easily abused.

And what can I say about the same treatment to real news that instills “fears” and “causing panic” among the people that’s now also banned? Now, they are set to censor real news that is disturbing and this very disturbing in itself.   

Real news such as 18,912 new infections or 178 deaths reported on a single day today can cause panic and fears but they are real – and the government reported it to the public. (Move Forward Party spokesman Wiroj Lakana-adisorn told me last week that with an average of 100+ deaths per day, it’s like a plane crashed on a daily basis now.) If you are worried about real news that may create panic and destabilize the government, you should work harder to get quality vaccines and not waste time and manpower by trying to control the plot through censorship and instilling fears among journalists and social media users.

The press should just ignore the order and continue to provide the public with COVID-19-related news that may be disturbing as long as it’s factual. Ignore a dictatorial regime desperate to control the narrative and go to the court to fight it out if necessary. This is because a society in a state of self-denial cannot solve its problems.

Stay calm everyone. Even if we are entering an even grimmer period of deaths, infections and economic crises, we have to face the mirror truthfully and not panic. If there’s anyone clearly panicking it’s the Thai regime which resorts to censorship to control COVID-19 damage – which is futile.

The government’s new tactics against fake news, fake deaths and even real news that may generate fears demonstrate that they distrust Thai citizens. The regime views citizens as immature, imbecile and unable to decide what to make of what they see and read.

It also says the regime is losing the plot and desperately wants to rewrite the plot to make it look better through fears and censorship. That’s definitely not the way to win against COVID-19 outbreak. The virus doesn’t treat self-denial kindly. That itself makes me panic, thinking that the government is sinking deeper into COVID defeat and denial.

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