Wassana Nanuam of the Bangkok Post, is one of Thailand’s most acclaimed reporters on military affairs. She is also the author of “Lup Luaung Prang” [Secrecy, Deceit, Disguise] book series, and Spring News TV program host. Her news pieces are highly sought-after. Everything she poses on her Facebook has gone viral, especially during limited press freedom under the military regime.
The reporter talks to Aree Chaisatien of Media Inside Out on her work experiences and current situation under the grip of military junta.
MIO: Why did you choose to be a military affairs reporter?
Wassana: I did not choose. The situation presented itself. As a journalism student at Thammasat University writing a dissertation [on "Political thinking of Gen. Suchinda Kraprayoon related to the 1991 Coup, his becoming prime minister, and the 1992 Black May"], I was on-the-job-training at Naewna Newspaper. It coincided with the time of political crisis between the government and the army. There were rumours of military coup. The editor assigned me to assist a senior military affairs reporter due to loads of works. It was a good time for me to learn about military affairs reporting and about the army. This coupled with the fact that I have been interested in politics and the army, probably because of the history of the university (which was formerly called 'The University of Moral Science and Politics). I have been interested in the army and the reasons behind Thailand’s frequent coups and fights for power. It can be said that my career started with negative attitude towards the army as enemy of democracy.
MIO: Are most of military affairs reporters male?
Wassana: No. Interestingly, around 60% -70% is female. Maybe this is because most of reporters are women and editors have no choice but to send female reports to cover military affairs.
Another reason is that editors may think that female reporters can delve into military news better than male counterparts. We can use their gentleness to deal with strong characteristics of soldiers. High-ranking soldiers tend to have more consideration towards female reporters [“kreng-jai”] and be kinder to female reporters. When we pose questions, they are likely to answer in a gentler manner.
MIO: Compared to male reporters, are there any obstacles/advantages/disadvantages being a female report in covering military affairs?
Wassana: Gender is not considered a problem at all. However, working among soldiers, female reporters have to beware of the way we carry ourselves. We have to avoid involving in relationship affairs. But, in reality, this is not an issue because most of female military affair reporters have bold and fearless characteristics. Those who are beautiful are likely to be assigned as TV anchors and they do not have to associate with military news sources.
Male reporters do have some advantages. They can hang out so freely and closely with soldiers that they become brothers. They go drinking, travelling and playing soccer.
Meanwhile, female reporters have to keep a certain distance. We are able to seek news during drinking and chatting but need to take good care of ourselves. If we get drunk, we still have to have some consciousness to remember the gist of news.
Wassana Nanuam’s twitter on 22 May 2014, saying “General Prayuth announcing a coup”
MIO: During this time of control of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), military affairs news is extremely important. Do you feel stressful in meeting expectations of both audiences and news sources?
Wassana: Since the launch of my first pocket book “Lup Luang Prang” about stories behind the 2006 coup, I have been expected to be able to know it all and to answer all questions. However, I am delighted that I am part of making the public more aware of the importance of military affairs.
These days it is a burden to search for all answers from the public but it is considered my job and I feel proud of doing so. The problem is those, who do not understand and hate soldiers, also hate military affairs reporters. Although I just do my reporting duty, they think I am a soldiers’ mouthpiece. Meanwhile, soldier lovers do not like military affairs reporters, either. They condemn us when we criticize the army and the military leaders. We are attacked by all sides.
Photo courtesy Wassana Nanuam
MIO: What is your view on the 97th announcement of the NCPO’s stating that the authorities can shut down any media, whether print, television, radio or online, if it disseminates information deemed threatening to the monarchy or national security, or criticises the work of the NCPO?
Wassana: Since most of Thai people are not against, and some even welcome, this coup, as a reporter I cannot do anything but to accept, albeit to some extent, too on the ground that we are now a sovereign state controlled by the military junta.
On one hand, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has long had negative attitude towards media and reporters. Even prior to the coup, we have seen that he always blames reporters and threatens us, especially the ones who express strong criticism, to behave ourselves otherwise we will be unemployed. Since the coup, a number of TV channels were shut down, some of which are still shut down until now.
On the other hand, the military junta leader has put an importance on media. He reads all newspaper, including bits and pieces of news that we do not think very important. He will lose his head with military and political news that are not written in the way he likes. It seems that he does not understand the nature and roles of media, as well as general traits of Thai readers.
This explains why the NCPO has controlled and planned to reform the media, as one of the 11 issues. One important thing is that media need to unite as one and resist the control of media and demand for the NCPO to amend this order. Meanwhile, media need to contemplate more before reporting.
Every coup leader does the same thing. The difference is that this time the NCPO has been in power for a long period of time and this is why they have to control the media. When there is a provisional government, I believe that the power of the head of the NCPO as stated in the Section 44 of the Interim Constitute will reign supreme to cover the media.
Since the NCPO does not welcome any advices, warnings and criticism, which reflects the truth, but chooses to accept praise and admiration only, which are in fact poisons, from supporters and those bowing their heads to the coup, let it continue doing so. As reporters, we have to continue our duty because if the press are shut down, the public’s right to be informed is also shut down.
MIO: Do you practise self-censorship? Are you censored?
Wassana: Under such situation, of course, self-censorship is crucial. By self-censorship, I mean filtering and contemplating on information prior to reporting. This includes use of the right words. It does not mean covering up the truth. Some words have the same meanings but some seem to convey softer sense. Sometimes, I have to play several layered tricks. Some comments may seem favourable but upon reading between the lines they are a kind of warning or criticism.
One of Wassana's books on Thai Military
MIO: You have experienced three coups during your career, including in 1992 and 2006. What have you learned as a reporter?
Wassana: Each coup has its own unique character. What I know for sure is that former coups fail to bar the army from staging future coups. On the contrary, coups are considered acceptable and future coups should not repeat the “wasteful” same old ways.
Unlike former coups, this time the authority’s power has been fully put in place. Most of Thai people are so sick of politics, politicians and street mobs that they think the army who staged the coup is a hero. They are fully contented with the ‘right’ actions of the soldiers who chased the street protesters to go back home and wiped out the street chaos. They are fully contented to offer their freedom to the hands of the soldiers to manage for them and hope that everything will fall into places and order. Most of Thai people demand the NCPO to manage just about every issue. Results of many polls reflect people’s satisfaction on the NCPO. Some people even demand the NCPO’s head to be prime minister.
This twist is another ‘Amazing Thailand’ incident for foreigners. While the global democratic community is anti-coup, most of Thai people welcome coup with smiles. This twist would be an extremely interesting case study. Many high-ranking officers in the army are green with envy that Gen. Prayuth has done it successfully.
It is apparent that coup continues to be the solution to Thai political crises when it is deemed that there are no other ways out.
It is likely that with lessons learned from previous coups, Gen. Prayuth may be the next PM. Previous coup leaders did not dare to be PMs because it is against the rule and for fear of being looked at as power hunger. This is not the case for Gen. Prayuth as he might not be satisfied with anyone who will become the next PM.