When the prime minister stepped before reporters today, he had a new complaint on his mind.
During a visit to the Defense Ministry today, Prayuth Chan-o-cha was expounding on why the media should remain neutral amid protests to his rule when he noted “inappropriate” newspaper front pages on which photos of the king and queen appeared smaller than those of recent protests.
“What does this mean?” he said. “You have to weigh whether this is appropriate.”
Prayuth was getting at guidelines long observed quietly by newsrooms on how to uphold the supremacy of the monarchy by strictly adhering to rules for how it is presented. While most newspapers around the world position front page stories based on their news value, impact and photographs; Thai newsrooms follow agreed-upon rules dictating what appears on A1 – and where.
For example, obligatory royal news items – usually routine ceremonies or dedications – must appear above other stories, with royal faces minor and major appearing higher than anyone or anything else on the page. As with every television channel’s inclusion of “royal news” at the peak prime time of 8pm, it serves to reinforce the primacy of the royal family in everyday life.
Prayuth began angrily railing against the media almost as soon as he seized power in 2014. Over the years he has “jokingly” called for reporters to be executed and muzzled outlets deemed unfriendly through regulatory action.
Today his list of complaints included stories “exaggerating” the number of protesters.
“We see only pictures that don’t seem to have that many people, and the media writes a lot of numbers. Some write tens of thousands, hundred of thousands or even a million,” Prayuth said. “Is it true? If it’s factual, I won’t blame you.”
A reporter asked his opinion on a rally just called for Wednesday at the Constitutional Court, where a verdict will be issued on whether he can serve as prime minister.
Prayuth said that while he’s not worried about the ruling – he said “it’s the justice process” that he respects – he felt the protest might be illegal.
Additional reporting Todd Ruiz