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What the media didn't tell you : Struggle not over

Bangkok Post >News > Local News
What the media didn't tell you
There were more than a few stories this year that were not told

Published: 30/12/2010 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: News 
Source : Bangkok Post http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/213692/what-the-media-didn-t-tell-you

While media outlets everywhere are compiling their "best of" features made up of the most newsworthy events of the past 12 months, let us not forget the many stories that did not receive the attention they might have deserved.

Inspired by Sonoma State University's Project Censored, which collects "news that didn't make the news" - stories that were under-reported, ignored or censored by the US media each year - Bangkok Post has picked five local news items that it believes were not covered adequately in Thailand in 2010.

1. Struggle not over

The long struggle by garment workers laid off by Body Fashion Thailand, the production arm of swimwear giant Triumph International, is far from over.

The firm made redundant almost 2,000 workers at its factory in Samut Prakan's Bang Phli district in August 2009, citing a "global restructuring programme to deal with the difficult economic conditions".

The workers claimed they were dismissed unfairly and took the case to court. They also staged a rally in front of the Labour Ministry to call on the government to look into the matter.

Body Fashion Thailand (BFT) later agreed to give the workers 400 sewing machines to help them make an independent living. The donation was made through the Paitoon Kaewthong Foundation to avoid red tape.

Mr Paitoon is a former labour minister and Democrat MP for Phichit.

But the workers discovered that the foundation only distributed 250 of the machines. They said it kept the other 150, worth about 1.5 million baht, for itself.

About 30 workers petitioned Labour Minister Chalermchai Sri-on in October to look into the matter.

"How could [the foundation] do this to us?" asked BFT worker Jitra Kotchadej. "We are the unemployed, struggling to make ends meet. The foundation must donate the [remaining] sewing machines to us."

The workers have now set up a makeshift factory at a shophouse in Bangkok to produce their own lingerie line under the "Try Arm" brand.

Mr Paitoon has denied the foundation intended to keep some of the sewing machines.

He said only 250 former BFT staff had registered with the foundation to receive the machines, so he had given some of the surplus to women's groups in Sukhothai, Lamphun and Ayutthaya.

The foundation also had to spend over 100,000 baht to repair some of the used machines, he said.

The Democrat MP insisted his foundation would hand over machines to any former worker who asked for one.

2. Lantern 'fire balls'

While people were captivated by the beauty of 8,400 floating lanterns released into the night sky from Pin Klao Bridge on Dec 5, staff at historical locations around the old Bangkok quarter were keeping a close watch for possible fires.

The lanterns were part of the government-hosted celebrations marking His Majesty the King's 83rd birthday.

A report from officials at the National Museum claimed that several "fire balls" fell on to the museum after the massive lantern release.

The museum, less than a kilometre from the bridge, houses many invaluable national treasures. There were also reports of the flaming paper lanterns dropping on other important sites, such as the Temple of the Emerald Buddha, the National Theatre and Thammasat University.

The museum management wrote to the Fine Arts Department alerting them to the risk posed by floating lanterns.

They also asked the department to forward their concerns to the government.

"It was only due to good luck that the historical premises were not set ablaze by the lanterns," a member of the museum staff told the Bangkok Post.

"The old city is not suitable for this [type of] activity and the authorities should consider banning it."

3. Villagers' protest

A group of villagers in Prachuap Khiri Khan gathered on a 10-rai site early this month to harvest rice both for sustenance and as a symbolic protest against industry.

It was the third harvest since the Bang Saphan villagers converted the plot into a paddy field to supply rice to members of the Mae Ramphueng conservation group.

The land belongs to villagers who left it idle after they switched from growing rice to other work.

The conservation group has been opposing the planned construction of a 500 million baht smelting plant by the Sahaviriya Group since 2005. They say the steelworks would harm the marine ecology and a giant peat swamp which serves as a food bank for local residents.

With the struggle looking set for the long haul, the villagers came up with the rice-growing project to support their protest.

"We can't fight if we are hungry," said Witoon Buaroy, the villagers' leader.

"We have fish from the sea, freshwater animals and vegetables from the peat swamp, and rice from our own field.

"This will help us to pursue our struggle [against the steelworks]."

The paddy field is also intended as a symbolic activity to show people how fertile the area is and why it is threatened by the steel plant.

Approval for the plant is pending the results of an environmental impact assessment.

4. Unsung reds

The red shirt protests from March to May have inevitably been listed as the top news story for 2010 by every Thai media outlet, and Time magazine included the uprising in its top 10 world news stories of the year.

But most of the news coverage has focused on the key figures heading the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship and the government's handling of the situation. The fate of lesser-known red shirts in the aftermath of the May 19 dispersal has been under-reported.

Stories about red shirts detained or killed during the riots can usually only be found on alternative media such as the Prachatai online newspaper or the pro-red shirt Voice TV network.

One of the incidents largely ignored by the mainstream media was the arrest of sandal seller Amornwan Charoenkit, 42, during a red shirt rally in Ayutthaya on Oct 3.

She was charged with violating the emergency decree by selling products with provocative messages.

Ms Amornwan's sandals are screen-printed with images of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban, with the message "People died at Ratchaprasong".

The vendor was granted bail but her case prompted the Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation to issue its 141st announcement on Nov19 banning the sale of provocative and anti-monarchist merchandise.

The ban lasted only a week after a public outcry forced its hurried revocation.

Another underplayed story was that of Winai Pinsilapachai.

Mr Winai was detained at Mukdahan prison after being charged with an arson attack on Mukdahan provincial hall on May 19.

On Nov 25, he swallowed fabric softener in front of his wife.

He was rushed to hospital, where doctors said he was suffering from severe depression and remained a suicide threat. Mr Winai's wife used the doctors' statement and 500,000 baht in assets to seek bail for her husband.

The court approved the bail on Nov 29.

Anond Nampha, a volunteer lawyer helping detained red shirt supporters in the Northeast, said there were 19 detainees at Mukdahan prison.

He said many of them were severely stressed as they could not afford a lawyer or believed the charges against them were groundless.

5. Eviction fight

The Thong Lor slum community has been fighting against eviction despite its occupation of the area for 50 years.

Watthana district office said the 325-square-wah site on Soi Sukhumvit55 had to be vacated to make way for a drainage canal, but residents believe Big Money is behind the eviction order.

Last year, a condominium developer lodged a complaint with the district office saying the slum represented visual pollution and posed a threat to the safety of condominium residents.

Jit-orn Rattana-amornvet, 49, has lived in the slum all her life.

"We have been living here for 50 years and City Hall never had a problem with us until the condo operator lodged a complaint," she said.

Most of the community's population of about 220 are motorcycle taxi drivers, street vendors or scavengers.

When the government announced its community land deed policy this year, Thong Lor slum applied.

The government's screening panel, led by PM's Office Minister Satit Wongnongtoey, agreed to include the slum in the pilot scheme.

The community land deed scheme is aimed at solving disputes between villagers living on state land and the agencies which hold the title. A title deed will be granted to a community rather than an individual so the land cannot be sold to an outsider.

However, in October, Thong Lor police summoned slum dwellers to answer charges of encroaching on public land and violation of the Land Act filed by the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration.

The move prompted the residents to hold a rally in front of Government House on Dec 13, calling on the government to look into the problem.

"Our community is about to get a community land deed from the government," Ms Jit-orn said. "It was shocking to be summoned for questioning on land encroachment charges."

She said this clearly showed the government had failed to force officials working on the ground to follow its policies