By PRAVIT ROJANAPHRUK, THAWEEPORN KUMMETHA
THE NATION ON SUNDAY
Published on June 28, 2009

Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, a leader of the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship and editor of the new Thai Red News weekly newspaper, isn't your typical red-shirt chieftain.

While denying he's ever received money from former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, Somyot is quick to add that he wouldn't mind getting some.

"I'd like some of Thaksin's money if he's willing! I don't know why he won't give me any. I think he only gives it to his cronies.

"I don't think there's anything wrong with accepting money from him but, as it is, what I say or do is entirely up to me."

Somyot says some red shirts regard Thaksin as a "saint", but he prefers to see him as a "victim" of the 2006 coup.

That was the event that pushed Somyot, a former labour activist who once denounced Thaksin, solidly into the red-shirt, pro-Thaksin corner.

He is nevertheless the first to acknowledge that the reds are far from homogeneous, a fact that's reflected in the half-dozen or so "red" journals recently launched or soon to hit the newsstand.

"The red-shirt movement is not a unified movement. The different factions are highly individualistic and are at different levels of thinking."

Thaksin's deposition epitomises the struggle between old money and new money, Somyot says.

"In Thailand we have a group of people who control a group of capitalists. They're the bureaucrat-capitalists, and they hinder the development of democracy."

Thaksin has been accused of corruption, but Somyot believes the electoral choice of the majority must be accepted, and they chose Thaksin.

"We must respect their choice, even if it means a bad person is elected. I think democracy will then progress."

Corruption must be stopped, says Somyot, but allegations of corruption don't justify such drastic action as a coup d'etat.

Such extra-constitutional intervention in politics is proof of an "invisible hand", he says, without elaborating on the identity.

The red-shirt movement is a reaction to such political interference, and to double standards, he says.

"The reds are disgruntled and upset, but they're not organised, and that's what led to the bloody April incident," Somyot says, acknowledging that the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy is both well organised and "militant".

Somyot states flatly that Thai Red News is there for the red shirts, but dismisses complaints about "fake" news outlets.

He insists that having news outlets of diverse outlooks is beneficial, whereas barring opposing viewpoints will only worsen the situation.

Most media outlets, Somyot says, operate under a dictatorial climate in which press freedom is impossible.

"Take lese majeste cases as an example: The mainstream media are controlled by the capitalists, so they can't truly be free."

Thai Red News shows its connections with the Pheu Thai in the congratulatory ads taken out by MPs of that party.

Somyot admits that the publisher, former Kalasin Senator Viboon Chaemchuen, is "the real editor", while Somyot serves as the paper's public face.

He believes 30,000 copies per week would be an ideal circulation, though it's still in the process of assessing demand.

"The market is the people who have faith in Thaksin," Somyot says. "The reds are a new group who feel they've been discriminated against. They feel bullied by the mainstream media, even degraded and insulted.

"That's why some people came up with the idea of creating their own media. And the new media might not be top quality, but these people sense their ownership of it."

About Bt2 million was raised to launch Thai Red News.

"They feel at home knowing that [red-short leaders] like Jaran Dittipichai and Jakrapob Penkair write for the paper."