"When a Western journalist interviews us, however, it is seldom done to render us service. In the war in Algeria, for example, the most liberal-minded French reporters make constant use of ambiguous epithets to portray our struggle. When we reproach them for it, they reply in all sincerity they are being objective. For the colonized subject, objectivity is always directed against him." - Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth
There’s something insidious about Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondent Club Thailand. With its bogus claims of “neutrality/objectivity” and its tacit support of the worst excesses of the Thai establishment it attempts to create a “consensus” of what is “acceptable” and “bonafide” journalism.
The FCCT’s “bonafide” “neutral” journalism, in short, accepted the imprisonment of Thai journalists and activists Somyot Prusakasemsuk and Daranee Charnchoengsilpakul under Thailand’s draconian lese majeste law without so much as raising its voice. This acceptance of one of the most brutal forms of repression in the Thai establishment’s arsenal is, of course, very very far from neutral. It does, in fact, support this repression and sides with the powerful forces that implement this law’s vicious outcomes.
Yet, whilst the FCCT’s neutrality is both bogus and ethically suspect its reasoning for doing so is dangerous and actually a direct attack on Thai press and media freedoms.
The reason Somyot and Daranee were abandoned by the FCCT was because they were not considered “bonafide” or “neutral” journalists. They were not considered “neutral” because they held views that were anti-establishment and therefore, according to the FCCT, they were no longer considered “bonafide” journalists.
The FCCT’s faux neutral position is NOTHING to do with journalism or a free press.
A free press champions a diverse and pluralistic range of opinions, positions and politics.
A free press holds the powerful to account and challenges dominance.
It does not hide behind “neutrality” when press freedoms are threatened in the draconian fashion they are in Thailand. It takes a principled position.
As for “political neutrality” being a requisite for "bonafide journalism" - what on earth does that mean?
One of the greatest journalists and writers of the 20th Century, George Orwell, was very far from “politically neutral” and took up weapons to fight the fascists in Spain.
If Orwell was working in Thailand today and had the misfortune of being imprisoned the “neutral” journalists of the FCCT would abandon him to his fate and, no doubt, claim Mr Orwell wasn’t “bonafide” because he dared to express his political convictions.
According to the FCCT holding and expressing a political view means you are no longer a “bonafide” journalist and, therefore, the establishment is free to do what it wants with you.
And it gets worse. These days the journalists and members of the FCCT spend their time attacking those bloggers, writers and commentators who suggest that the Thai establishment be held to account. Well-known FCCT members, right up to the executive, have openly embraced expat racists connected to the Thai Army on social media, refusing, point-blank to condemn activities which have included stalking family members of non-FCCT "approved" journalists and commentators.
The campaign of intimidation and harassment that FCCT members engage in on social media against dissenting voices and the closing down of the debate to a narrow set of “approved” and “bonafide” views shows how little the members and the executive of the FCCT understand what freedom of expression actually means.
There is no pluralism or alternative at the FCCT. There is only “neutrality” which, in the face of some of the worst censorship laws on earth, can only ever be taken as connivance.