“Would you put your leg down? Would you not cross your legs in front of me? Would you put your leg down? You, your leg, your foot.”
On 31 March, at a press conference, Government House, General Prayut Chan-o-cha scolded a female reporter for sitting crosslegged.
Later, Nattreeya Taweewongse, Director of the Office of the Spokesperson, the Secretariat of the Prime Minister, said:
“I have informed the media house to advise and lecture [the reporter] for posting fake information [about the incident] and have requested the suspension [of the reporter] from covering the Government House until the reporter understands. “
In response, Banyong Suwanpong, Ethics Committee, the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) and the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA), said:
“Technology may have changed, but a good and beautiful Thai tradition is to humble yourself before the elders. In the same way, reporters must honor the place and the news media industry by both how we dress and how we behave.”
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the relationship hierarchy drenched in inequality between the poo-yai (the elder, social superior) and the poo-noi (the younger, social inferior).
A conflict arose between the prime minister and a reporter. The poo-yai journalist took the side of the poo-yai prime minister and the poo-yai director, all of whom gang-up on the poo-noi reporter over the issue of how the poo-noi must kowtow to the poo-yai.
The Thai culture considers the feet as the lowest part of the body: physically, metaphysically, and existentially. Dragged in dust and dirt, because traditionally we don’t wear shoes, it is highly improper to raise your feet in any way in front of the poo-yai.
(Hence, the reference to the status of the people as the “dust” or the “cushion” under the feet.)
If anyone ever wonders by the news media is timid and toe the line, this is it:
How does one checks and balances the power of the poo-yai when culture demands one to kowtow?
How does one be vigilant and critical of the power of the poo-yai when culture dictates one to conform?
Even the TJA and the TBJA, the institutions that are supposed to stand up for journalists’ rights, expect you to kowtow and conform.