The response to my recent article on this site, “A king’s funeral and a chance to show the world the best of Thai culture,” was overwhelming. Thanks to all the thousands Thai people who took the time to express their gratitude.
One response in particular was from a producer from the BBC, who questioned my commentary, asking me to produce evidence that the BBC criticized the cost of the funeral. I had not taken the time to respond to her immediately, and she sent a follow-up Tweet the following day saying, “I see that you have not responded & your article remains online,” arrogantly implying that I should take the article down simply because somebody from the BBC expressed some mild displeasure with it. The BBC should know better than to suggest such a thing.
Following is my response to the BBC.
The BBC’s tone of course is subtle, but the bias is evident. BBC reporters are fine writers, and they know how to manipulate words and headlines to impart their bias without overtly stating opinion.
In Jonathan Head’s interview with The Hon. Narisa Chakrabonse, great-granddaughter of King Chulalongkorn, the headline itself reads, “Thai king funeral: Relative on country’s ‘genuine love’”, putting the words “genuine love” in quotations. As any journalist will understand, putting something in quote marks can have two different meanings – it can be meant simply to indicate that those words were a direct quote, or, it can indicate a type of sarcasm, as if to say the words are untrue. This headline would seem to be the latter. Why other reason would there be to put the term “genuine love” in quote marks? A better headline from an unbiased reporter would have read, “Thai king funeral: Relative on country’s genuine love,” without the added quote marks around that phrase. The quote marks add no value except to imply doubt as to the veracity of that love. In the interview itself, reporter Jonathan Head asks leading questions meant to challenge the love Thai people had for the late King.
Also in the report, the BBC refers to Khun Narisa simply by her name, without her noble title of “Mom Rajawongse” (the Thai equivalent of “The Honorable”). Did the BBC ever refer for example, in its reportage of Lady Di and Prince Charles’ wedding, to the couple as “Di and Chuck?” Hardly. The absence of the title was another example of subtle bias and disrespect.
The BBC also engages in clickbait headlining, often referring in the headlines to the “lavish” ceremony, mentioning the $90 million cost in both the headline and lede. This also is a way of subtlely influencing the reader to focus on the cost, and to imply that the ceremony was excessive. As I mentioned in my original article, the ceremony itself was more than a funeral, it was a celebration of everything Thai. The cost was secondary to the real story, yet the cost itself was the focus of the headline. The cost is of course, part of the story, and there’s nothing wrong from a journalistic point of view with mentioning it. But the cost is not the main story, and it does not belong in the lede.
For comparison purposes, let’s look at BBC headlines of another “lavish” Royal event, the Diamond Jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth. In the feature, “In pictures: Millennium artists at the Jubilee pageant,” BBC celebrates in a positive way, the many artists who celebrated the Jubilee with creative interpretation – much the same way as many Thai artists devoted time and effort to pay tribute to King Bhumibol. The headline is factual and straightforward. In the article, “Are the French secretly in love with Britain’s royals?” the headline writer did not put the word “love” in separate quotes. The article itself spoke of the desire for pomp and pageantry, and how the British Royal family provides reassurance in a changing world – again, a similar sentiment to what I wrote in my original article. No subtle implications against the British royalty can be seen. Headlines and reportage are straightforward. This is not the case with the BBC’s reportage of King Bhumibol’s funeral, even though King Bhumibol – like Queen Elizabeth – provided reassurance and comfort to the Thai people in a changing world.
In another contrasting example, in the BBC article, “Diamond Jubilee: Pomp and celebrations defy the rain,” the BBC reporter praised the celebration, and took time to interview participants who said wonderful things about the event and about HM Queen Elizabeth. Quotes on the Queen’s graciousness, and about how she cares for her people, were included. No sarcasm or misleading headlines were part of this article. In regards to HM King Bhumibol’s funeral however, the BBC made sure to reach out to Andrew Marshall, a frequent critic of the Thai royal family and government, who lambasted everything about it.
The real story here isn’t the cost of the ceremony. It is the deep love and respect Thai people had for their late King, and the wonderful display of Thai culture and art that marked the event. My original report was accurate and heartfelt, and it will stand as is.FOLLOW NEWSORG.ORG ON SOCIAL MEDIA