MAIL BAG [email protected]
An open letter to the Ambassadors of Nations
represented in Thailand and the International Media
the wake of recent political developments in Thailand, I feel compelled to
write to address what I believe to be gross misinterpretations of the
current situation in Thailand by certain Western nations and elements of the
international media. As a naturalized Thai citizen born in America I feel
that I have a unique perspective on recent events and the reactions to these
events. I have lived in Thailand for over 51 years but have not forgotten my
western roots. I feel obliged to say something about the reaction in the
West towards these recent events.
I am distressed by the interpretation by a number of Western governments and
the international media of both the Coup that recently took place in
Thailand and the situation that led to the Coup. Put succinctly, many of you
have gotten it wrong. From where we sit in Thailand today, it is not an
issue of which political party was right and which was wrong. All Thais will
pull together to work within a system that is acceptable to the majority of
Thais and is sustainable. Vilifying one party or politician will not lead to
constructive reconciliation moving forward.
A Coup d’Etat is not a positive event by any means. I do not believe that
the Thai military considered it to be positive, but rather a necessary step
that was taken reluctantly. I cannot think of one Western country that has
in recent memory experienced the social and political gridlock that Thailand
suffered through for the past six months, resulting in government and
political paralysis against a background of increasing violence and needless
loss of life. As the situation in Thailand escalated, it became painfully
clear that there would be no resolution as neither side of the political
divide offered any reasonable compromise or demonstrated any inclination to
compromise. The military showed great restraint as it stood by watching the
situation deteriorate, allowing ample time and opportunity for the
politicians to resolve the crisis. The price for that period was paid for by
the Thai people, in blood, stress and economic sacrifice and only when it
was clear that that there was no other reasonable solution did the Thai
military step in.
It is easy for people far away to have characterized events in Thailand as a
clash between “pro” and “anti” democracy protestors. This is not correct.
There are very few people on either side of the political debate who oppose
the idea of a functional democratic system for Thailand. I believe the Thai
military, the majority of political parties in Thailand and the Thai people
all want democracy. But I believe what they want is a stable and functioning
democracy that represents the will of the majority of Thai people.
I believe that the current environment provides the platform for an
effective “reboot” of Thai democracy that will meet the needs and
aspirations of the Thai people. Thailand is a relatively young democracy and
as every Western democracy has gone through periods of great change and
reform, this is precisely what Thailand is experiencing as part of the
maturation of its political system. Recent developments are an important
step toward establishment of a strong and stable political structure which
will underpin Thailand’s success going forward.
However, Thailand is not only facing political challenges, but also the
compounding effects of exaggerated media reports which paint a distorted and
unrealistic picture of the situation in the Kingdom. While such reporting
may sell newspapers and draw TV audiences, it is fear-mongering which
promotes a misunderstanding of the situation—this in turn influences
government travel warnings worldwide and has a disastrous effect on tourism.
There are no concerns whatsoever for personal safety within Bangkok’s large
expatriate community or the millions of tourists still enjoying their
holidays in Thailand, yet this is not mentioned in the international media
reports or travel warnings. Life goes on very much as usual in Thailand but
this is far from the impression that one gets when watching the
international news channels.
Hospitality has a huge impact on the Thai economy, generating millions of
jobs and billions of dollars in revenue for a country that is known
throughout the world for its charm, safety and hospitality. However, 62
countries have issued travel advisories for Thailand, 18 of which contain a
“red alert” advising citizens to defer all travel to Thailand, according to
the Foreign Affairs Ministry. These travel warnings are baffling to those of
us who understand Thailand and fly in the face of the fact that Thailand
continues to peacefully welcome millions of travellers from all over the
world. It is the responsibility of all parties, and the media in particular,
to present the situation accurately and in proper context to promote
understanding, rather than misunderstanding, of the situation. All parties
involved need to think hard about the detrimental effect that their words
and actions are having on the people of Thailand.
Today’s travellers are more savvy than they have ever been and with many
countries around the world facing economic challenges, political
difficulties and natural disasters, our globetrotting community understands
how to take these factors into account when making their travel plans.
Increasingly, travellers are relying on first-hand advice from people at
ground zero who understand that this is simply part of the international
travel landscape. If the media continues to promote sensationalistic and
simplistic viewpoints of the situation in Thailand, they not only do a
disservice to the viewing public but also run a very real risk of making
Thailand remains a peaceful and welcoming country, with unique natural and
cultural attractions for travellers to experience and is very much open for
business—this is the reality and this is the message that is not being sent
by most major international media outlets and embassies.
Despite my deep concerns regarding the media’s portrayal of the current
situation in Thailand, I have great respect and appreciation for the
positive role that the media can play in promoting understanding of
countries and cultures. I am hopeful that all parties concerned, the media
and foreign missions to Thailand included, can pull together for the greater
good of the Thailand that we know and love. I urge the media to exercise its
persuasive power with principle and integrity, to promote an honest and
clear understanding of the current situation. I urge foreign governments to
reassess the severity of their travel warnings and to revise and update
prior statements to reflect the reality that Thailand is completely safe for
travel. I applaud those nations and media outlets already portraying news of
the coup and the security situation in Thailand in a balanced manner—your
integrity is appreciated.
We all agree that the tourism industry is critical to the Thai economy and
the growth of Thailand, and it should not become a casualty of
misunderstanding, misrepresentation and hyperbole. Thailand very much
remains open for business and is as safe, friendly and welcoming destination
for tourists as it has always been.
I know that my letter is only one voice, but without voices there can be no
conversation. I hope that at a minimum my thoughts will cause some
reflection, and generate informed dialogue, on the realities of Thailand
William E. Heinecke
Chairman & Chief Executive Officer
Minor International Pcl
Chiangmai Mail Publishing Co. Ltd.
189/22 Moo 5, T. Sansai Noi, A. Sansai, Chiang Mai 50210
Tel. 053 852 557, Fax. 053 014 195
Editor: 087 184 8508
E-mail: [email protected]
Administration: [email protected]
Website & Newsletter Advertising: [email protected]
Copyright © 2004 Chiangmai Mail. All rights reserved.
This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.