Nor is it the right time for a comprehensive rehearsal of the background to the evidence and arguments that were presented. Those New Mandala readers who caught the program will probably feel, like us, that there was little substantively new in the coverage. It painted a picture that is all too familiar to academics, analysts and others who follow Thai political life closely.
Nonetheless Eric Campbell’s report was exceptional, and exceptionally brave, in a number of ways.
First, it provided a coherent and unflinching account of the current moment in Thai politics with video footage to illustrate its main points. Within the first few minutes the notorious birthday party video of the Crown Prince and his wife was broadcast into hundreds of thousands of Australian living rooms. The video was shown to highlight concerns within Thailand about the reputation, status and public behaviour of the Crown Prince.
Second, the report was punctuated by comments from the king’s unauthorised biographer, Paul Handley. Handley, as readers of this New Mandala interview will know, has continued to make incisive points about the Thai royal family since the publication of The King Never Smiles back in 2006. He was in particularly good form in this interview. No doubt Handley’s involvement contributed to the quality of Campbell’s final analysis.
Third, Campbell took the time to interview people who tend not to get enough international attention. He sought out both Chotisak Oonsong and Chiranuch Premchaiporn who have both been charged under Thailand’s draconian laws that protect the monarchy. Campbell’s conversations with them were poignant, and firsts for Australian television. Campbell also interviewed Kittichai, the brother of lese majeste prisoner Darunee Charnchoensilpakul. This was, again, powerful television.
Finally, Campbell directly confronted the hypocrisy of Thailand’s media establishment through an interview with The Nation‘s Thanong Khanthong. It was a spectacular ambush. It started with Thanong declaring that lese majeste laws do not influence what he publishes. It ended with Campbell asking Thanong why he hasn’t reported on the notorious birthday party video. Thanong had no answer, except some clearly uncomfortable words about not reporting on private matters.
And so ended a remarkable contribution to Australian, and perhaps now international, understanding of Thailand’s current political strife.
Inside Thailand, people may never get an opportunity to appreciate the coherence and compassion of Campbell’s report. That is, in itself, a tremendous pity.