|  March 27, 2013

Two steps forward and one step back virtually demands the popping of a champagne cork in situations where one step forward and two steps back are the norm. I am talking about combating the Big Brothers here in Thailand. The authorities’ many and frequent failings range from the benignly incompetent to the scandalously corrupt, and it is so easy – so much so that according to an ABAC poll, 76% of Thais believe that corruption is okay, as long as the country prospers – to simply let go, smile and float on.

But ease shouldn’t be the main consideration when it comes to adopting a course of action. In the past month or so I have had a couple of opportunities to step in and question authority. One was in my interview with Head of Chiang Mai Immigration, Police Colonel Prachak Awaiyawanont, a brave man who surprised us all with his candid answers to my questions, frank assessment of the shortcomings of his office and lack of support by his superiors in Bangkok. So much so that he agreed with my suggestion to petition the Prime Minister’s office to send more financial, personnel and logistical support to Chiang Mai Immigration so that they may better their service.

The other incident was when I was contacted by a reader asking me to look into the binge of extortion being made nightly by so-called ‘music police’. As an up-until-now pretty redundant member of The Committee to Check and Pursue Police Administrative for Provincial Gendarmerie, as well as a member of the press, I asked for a meeting with the Phuping Police Station chief, which resulted in a report on our web site (www.ChiangMaiCityNews.com) explaining to our readers that these so-called authorities, who claim to represent record labels and who have been raiding establishments from bars to spas collecting fines for playing unlicensed music, were in fact criminals and that businesses should not succumb to the pressures of thuggery.

In the case of the immigration petition – which, thanks to you, was signed by nearly 300 people – I was summoned to the good colonel’s office a few weeks after the publication of the magazine. I have already been instrumental in helping this courageous man into boiling water, so I shan’t go into details here, but let’s just say that our petition has backfired. While myself, the colonel and all of you who signed and sent helpful suggestions and encouraging comments to the Prime Minister’s office stood up and tried to affect change…well, sometimes change has to be made in subtler ways than pointing a spotlight onto an issue, or facial density-challenged persons. Perhaps we were too confrontational. In spite of all of our efforts, I am afraid that we have achieved nothing, and hope that we haven’t caused any harm. For that I am sorry.

But here comes those steps forward! With more and more people standing up against the gang of ‘music police’ extortionists by utilising social media, smart phones and the like, and reaching out to the media – us – the imposters have now been arrested! Sure, they are out on bail, and as one poster on ThaiVisa said, jumping bail should become an Olympic sport in Thailand, as they will most likely move on to lusher pick-easy pastures, but today we won the battle. You raised a hue and cry, refusing to be bullied, I questioned the police who have been accused of being complicit in this extortion, and they took action and made arrests. Yay us!

So often do I hear people resign themselves to the insidious corruption in this country, sanguinely shrugging their shoulders as they consider the sheer improbability of going against the current. And while it may indeed be improbable, our own experiences have shown that affecting action is not impossible.

The police now know that they are being scrutinised, the mean bullies (who have also skipped bail in Pattaya for a similar offence) are on the run and hopefully finding themselves with smaller pools of potential victims, many of you are now empowered for having stood up and looked Big Brother in the eye and I too feel as though traditional media retains some relevancy in this age of social media and citizen journalism.

I will have to rethink the immigration situation and get back to you at a later date.

Happy splashy Songkran! And let’s hope that this haze lets up.

Citylife this month:

We have a (new) office full of interns this month and they are contributing towards Citylife as well as our online news site CityNews, so you should have plenty of content to enjoy this month. Mai Nguyen tackles two big issues: domestic violence and the little-known but still prevalent Thai and Shan belief in supernaturalism. Hilary Cadigan talks to the bundle of energy that is Todd ‘Tongdee’ Lavelle about his upcoming Lanna World Festival, and shows you that a Vientiane visa run doesn’t have to send dental visit-esque shivers down your spine. Meanwhile, I try to convince the jaded ones out there that Songkran is still well worth sticking around for.