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Detail from a cartoon on The Nation online. To see the whole cartoon, click on the link at the end of the News Analysis

Good Navies Face Criticism With Courage

Wednesday, January 22, 2014
News Analysis

PHUKET: The navies of the Asia-Pacific region are being crtiticised as men in uniform deal with the difficult task of protecting their homelands from the unwanted arrival of boatpeople.

Perhaps the greatest difference comes in the approaches of the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Thai Navy.

While both have faced strong criticism, the RAN takes on its critics in public and explains what is happening.

The Royal Thai Navy, on the other hand, explains nothing and instead has now sued the media, using harsh and onerous laws to stifle reporting. The journalists face long jail terms.

The result: universal criticism that the Royal Thai Navy, regarded until now as a good organisation, is in this instance not defending democracy, but abusing it.

Comparing the two approaches gives some insights into how democracies are supposed to work.

While a navy captain can sue two Phuketwan journalists on behalf of the Royal Thai Navy - approximately 70,000 people - such a suggestion would be laughed out of court in Australia.

Instead, what happens in Australia is what should happen in Thailand: the leaders responsible for defending the Navy give media conferences and explain to the people who pay their wages, the public, what's happening.

So in recent days, Australia's Defence Minister, Scott Morrison, has been defending sailors against accusations that navy personnel inflicted burns on a group of African asylum seekers by making them hold hot parts of their boat's engine.

This week's claims of wrongdoing follow reports that Australian naval personnel have sworn at asylum seekers, handled them roughly and fired shots into the air while carrying out border protection operations.

On Monday, Australian Navy Chief Vice Admiral Ray Griggs issued his own statement.

''It is important that I place on the record my deep concern regarding the reporting over the last few weeks in both new and old media that discredits the conduct of members of the Royal Australian Navy in Border Protection Operations,'' he said.

While conceding that his organisation was not perfect, Vice Admiral Griggs said he was ''exceptionally proud of the men and women of our navy, particularly the way they serve on operations''.

''They serve at sea and ashore, at home and around the world, each and every day with great dignity and often with considerable courage,'' he said.

The same could clearly be said about Thailand's navy, if there was a leader in Thailand prepared to speak publicly about the navy and its role in repelling boatpeople.

An Australian navy captain could never sue members of the media for criminal defamation on behalf of all his colleagues because in Australia, defamation is a civil matter.

An Australian navy captain could never use the Computer Crimes Act against journalists because there is no such abhorrent legislation in Australia.

In Thailand, mystery surrounds the government's policy on boatpeople. There is no clarity on whether the Rohingya, driven out of Burma by racism and in some cases genocide, are also being abused in secret traffickers' camps inThailand.

Does the Royal Thai Navy ever arrest human traffickers? How do thousands of Rohingya mysteriously end up in secret jungle camps, where they are sometimes abused and beaten?

In Thailand, when approached for an explanation for the military suing the media, a vice admiral simply said: ''Let them explain themselves in court.''

Sadly, the Royal Thai Navy appears to have forgotten that its role is to defend democracy, not abuse it.

This is why, as journalists, we are preparing to go to jail rather than face trumped up charges that abuse media freedom and, when comparisons are made with other democracies, damage Thailand's reputation.

Full Rohingya Cartoon:

Navy Uses Computer Crimes Act to Sue:

Phuket Reporters Prepared for Prison:


Comments have been disabled for this article.


You spend half your mouthing running down Australia and all about it, but as usual , when it suits you, as it does now, you turn things around and now defend their ideals to the hilt.You really do want your cake and eat it too..The master manipulator doing as he does best.

Posted by James on January 22, 2014 19:02

Editor Comment:

We can tell right from wrong, James, and there are times when Australia gets it right and times when Australia gets it wrong. Our brains still function properly. You're the only perfect one, and you have our sympathy.
We mere mortals have no way of telling whether Australian sailors have done the right thing or the wrong thing. But the system for dealing with criticism has it right. Ultranationalists, though, who believe their country's armed forces can do no wrong, leave us uninspired.


You forget that Thailand is a democracy as well, the Thai navy has the right to sue you according to the law, else the court will reject the case. Defend yourself in court and you will walk free if you have done nothing wrong....and 100% with James, you normally use every opportunity to bad mouth Australia but now they are suddenly the best in the world. If this follows the normal reaction from you then it will not be published as you generally have a hard time taking a bit of critic, you are much better at posting nasty remarks.

Posted by Sailor on January 22, 2014 22:23

Editor Comment:

You constantly prove how little you know, Sailor. The bad Thai laws are the problem, and they are laws that do not befit a democracy. Australia is not suddenly the best in the world at anything much, except perhaps inflating egos, and only a fool would imagine otherwise.


Why on earth Ed do you think the Royal Thai Navy would take advice from you? You seem to forget you are in Thailand. It's their Country and they will do as they please. Stop taking pot shots at them. It will only harm your cause.

Good job to the RAN. Keep turning back these illegal entries into Australia. Our welfare system can't sustain them for much longer.

Posted by It's too late on January 23, 2014 05:04

Editor Comment:

All is explained, ITL. You're an Aussie right-wing fruit loop.


You have the audacity to criticize and mock readers that you interpret as telling you your job but it is acceptable for you to constantly criticise the Laws of Thailand ... Try to remember you are only a guest!
With regard to your suggestion that either myself or Laurie Howells make an offer to buy PW: As I have stated previously on several occasions a forced and distressed disposal has no value but Laurie may think otherwise
You are still without doubt PW's weakest link ... GOODBYE

Posted by Amazed in Thailand on January 23, 2014 08:18

Editor Comment:

Always good for a laugh, AiT. Thank you.


Is this the same Australian Navy that has been caught illegally operating in Indonesian waters?

Posted by Mister Ree on January 23, 2014 12:21

Editor Comment:

Yes. That's something they admitted, in public.


A to-the-point comparison highlighting the essential difference between how Naval forces in different countries handle very similar problems.

ACCOUNTABILITY is the key word and what's painfully missing in Thailand.

Posted by ThaiMike on January 23, 2014 15:56


I think suing you over this one paragraph is not so much about the paragraph and it's right or wrongs then to shut Phuketwan, the voice for Rohingya issues, lonely, I would like to add. Your a constant pain in the ass for evil doers. And evildoer not-preventers.

The law is just the tool for that purpose. Get silence for fear of going to prison. No public light shall shine into the dark corners.

In the light of day. it is quite clear that thousands of illegal Rohingha are coming into the country. The result of the Navy's work is clear. That should be discussed. Thousands are entering on a quasi sea autobahn into Thailand. That fact is quite established. Now Reuters people dig deeper and come up with a conclusion and some evidence. Even before it is obvious, that no Thai navy could be so negligent as to not know what is happening on the Andaman seaboard. Come on. It is just defying gravity.

Posted by Lena on January 24, 2014 02:37


This is a very serious issue, with people being bought & sold (in England we call it slavery), beatings, rapes, etc. etc. This is not the place to take cheap shots at the editor. I see nothing in this article that would provoke such responses so I can only assume that you are using this situation to get back for some previous comment, probably about a different matter. Grow up. And kudos to the PW team for sticking to your guns and the matter at hand.

Posted by James on January 24, 2014 09:18


When people can't argue with your assertions, Alan - and this article simply points out different ways of dealing with criticism - they stoop to vilification instead, obviously. Now have I got this right? People have thin hulls; boats have thin skins. Yes, that'd be it.

Posted by Ken Haley on January 26, 2014 16:32

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