September 8, 2008
Viewership of Thai Protest-Linked Website Doubles After Clash
Text of report in English by Thai newspaper Bangkok Post website on 8 September
[Report by Komsan Tortermvasana, Srisamorn Phoosuphanusorn: "Spreading the word"]Activists' use of digital devices is changing the rules of the political game, for better or worse, report Komsan Tortermvasana and Srisamorn Phoosuphanusorn
In any political conflict, media are always exploited as a tool for one side to attack the other. In the current showdown between the government and the People's Alliance for Democracy, the government has been accused of using state-run NBT television and its radio network across the country to spearhead the propaganda attacks on the PAD.
Photo from Bangkok Post, 8 September. Caption reads: "PAD supporters keep each other in the picture by every possible means."
But the PAD, headed as it is by a media tycoon, is hardly helpless. For a start, it has allies and supporters among urban elites and middle-class groups equipped with the latest advanced digital devices, multimedia mobile phones and digital cameras. They could be seen as the front-line troops in documenting the PAD's message as well as collecting evidence of activity directed against the protesters.
The anti-government forces also make heavy use of the satellite network ASTV, FM 92.22 and 97.75, community radio stations, and www.manager.co.th. The website that is home to the various outlets of Manager founder and PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul is is the third most visited in Thailand, behind only Sanook.com and Kapook.com, based on page-view statistics gathered by Truehits.net.
Manager webmaster Niran Yaowapa said that at 7 am last Tuesday, page views doubled to 6.5 million after a clash between PAD protesters and the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship and the ensuing imposition of a state of emergency in Bangkok.
When the police clashed with antigovernment protesters on Aug 29 while trying to paste an eviction order at the PAD performance stage at Makkawan, page views also topped six million. July page views totalled 89 million, but for August they rose to 96 million.
"We have more than 200,000 IP addresses of viewers during a normal period. But the number rose to more than 300,000 on the state of emergency day," said Mr Niran, adding that the number of viewers might be even greater because some places have more than one monitor with the same IP address.
The number of IP addresses doubled compared to the 2006 PAD protests against Thaksin Shinawatra.
He said he had only one moderator to screen comments from viewers normally, but during the crisis he employed two to make sure comments did not breach the law.
Over at the rally site, PAD supporters are often seen using their mobile devices to film events. On the night that government supporters stormed the PAD rally carrying sticks, swords and guns, PAD protesters shot the attack.
Within 15 minutes, the video clips and images appeared on YouTube, BBC Online and other popular local websites.
As more people - including political activists - acquire and learn to use smart phones, the implications for political activity are substantial. People now communicate instantly with voice, data, pictures and video streaming.
However, technology can be an axe that can be used to build a house or chop the head off an adversary, depending on the intentions of the user, says a local communications executive.
"The good news is that the ratio of good to evil uses of a technology is the same as the ratio of good to evil people who use that technology," he said. "Potentially harmful uses of technology will always be with us, such as using a mobile phone to ignite a bomb."
People who utilize the internet from their handsets or send and receive a lot of data may consider a WiFi-enabled handset, including high-end phones that offer seamless roaming between WiFi and traditional mobile networks.
Chances are, more than a few PAD sympathisers are upgrading their hardware, all the better to spread the word.
Originally published by Bangkok Post website, Bangkok, in English 8 Sep 08.
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