Winyu “John” Wongsurawat (John Winyu) is the 34-year-old executive director of SpokeDark TV on YouTube. He’s an entertainment industry celebrity, who openly criticizes the government. While it is frowned upon in Thailand for celebrities to have political opinions, John has over one million followers on Twitter and is very popular among the young generation. We grabbed an afternoon coffee with him to talk about the consequences of standing up and speaking out.
You’re one of the very few famous people, who speaks publicly about politics. Does this have any effects on your career?
So much. In this industry, people are so scared of all things related to politics. For example, if one TV program touches politics even at the slightest, even for a little bit as a joke, the producers and everyone involved would be so scared. They would refilm or cut it out. Because of this, people [in the industry] stay away from me. It affects whether or not you get hired for a job, as they don’t want to have anything to do with politics. So, that’s why my work is my own work. It really does affect a lot, and that’s why I don’t really have any expectations of the entertainment industry.
On the other hand, maybe it’s because of my political stance, which doesn’t really fit with industry executives. I support democracy, because my dad taught this to me since I was a kid. I see some people who were on the PDRC stage (People’s Democratic Reform Committee’s protests that led to the 2014 military coup) and they still have work. But I don’t really care. I’m not comfortable faking things.
Have you ever received backlash from within the entertainment industry?
Mostly warnings. When I was doing late night TV with one channel, politics was something I was never allowed to speak about. If I did, they would tell me to cut it out. Even in a way that was sarcastic or a joke, I was not allowed. For [his TV program] Shallow News in Depth, I was once called in for a chat at the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society. It was like a cute attitude adjustment, nothing as harsh as what Thai activists have had to go through.
But there’s an indirect consequence, when you have a stance, people in the industry do not want anything to do with you. One brand of detergent cancelled on me and said they would never work with me, because they said I was a Red Shirt.
Should celebrities be encouraged to stand up and speak out on politics?
Yes, absolutely. They have the loudest voice, louder than most people. They can influence people. So, they should support things like democracy and human rights. They should take an interest in and be more involved in this, as it’s for everybody. They can set an example for a lot of people.
If you ignore it, if you don’t talk about it, then it’s like nothing is happening. It’s like you’re lying to yourself and your followers. For example, if some natural disaster happened, you would be talking about it and raising awareness about it. So, when there’re ภัยต่อสังคม (detrimental social concerns) like this, you should also be talking about it.
Can someone be political and still remain in the entertainment industry?
Perhaps, possibly. I think right now there is a shift, a trend in our society that you have to have a clear stance. Under this regime, everyone is effected. Take a look and see, people who are trying to stay in the middle are getting criticized, even the politicians [who won’t pick a side]. I think it’s good that there are consequences.
It seems when celebrities speak on politics, they do it in favor of the government. Why is that? To be safe?
I can’t answer for other people, but I want to point to when the NACC [National Anti-Corruption Commission] wanted to do an anti-corruption event. I saw some artists joining, performing and I felt like they were told to do so by their bosses. I think it’s really sad to see artists being controlled and having limited freedom. At this event, you would never see them talking about how human rights are being corrupted. I want people to realize that a coup is basically corruption.
Where do we go from here?
People are starting to shift their mindset. The new generation is starting to make noises. The struggle will be from the citizens who are starting to raise their voices. You need to have a clear stance in politics. Korn [Chatikavanij], for example, doesn’t have a clear stance. He used to support Prayuth [Chan-o-Cha, the prime minister] in parliament. Now, he’s saying he’s in the middle. How is he going to survive in this political climate? The future belongs to the new generation and they don’t want dictatorship. Have a clear stance on the right social foundation, this is the better way to go forward.