Wednesday, 19 December 2012

The Plebgate Scandal

A change of scene from Thailand but to my amazement I saw a piece of journalism on TV last night that made me come over all warm inside. Channel 4 news in the UK is better than most but still shallow and ridiculous most of the time. Foreign news reporting is excellent but once it switches to the UK, the producers prejudices could not be more clear. Media types in the UK are notoriously left wing and Channel 4 presenters (I cannot bring myself to call them journalists) wear their hearts on their sleeves.

Every government initiative is greeted with a condescending sneer and a reporter is dispatched to find a single mother, with four kids who is willing to tell us how much more difficult her life will be as a consequence. We are invited to conclude that the government is failing because they  are unable to rebalance the books of a practically bust nation without some people getting a little bit less support from the state. Earlier in the week, they managed to turn what should have been a frothy piece about the Queen bowling up at 10 Downing Street, into a mini- constitutional crisis and a suggestion that a failing government was scraping the bottom of the publicity barrel. They have to keep the presenter (see above re: journalists), Cathy Newman from doing the sports reports. She would not be able to stop herself from asking a defeated football manager if the root of his problem, somewhere, was not government cuts. Then they did something amazing.

Last night, Michael Crick presented a piece on what has become known as the Plebgate scandal (you can find it on Twitter as #plebgate). Three months ago the press had jumped on the bandwagon when an argument was reported between a policeman and  government minister. Around the same time two policewomen were killed  in the line of duty. Plumbing uncharted depths, a link was made and the press managed to drag the politician from office. It was clear evidence that the government cared little for a service that put its life on the line for the public.  The only third party evidence was an e-mail from someone who claimed to be a witness. This was a bandwagon for government bashing and the Press. could not wait to climb aboard.

By checking the facts and tracking back through each element of the evidence, Crick demonstrated that:

1. The police log was almost certainly falsified (CCTV footage proved their were no witnesses as they had claimed)
2. The e-mail had been sent by a serving police officer who now admits he was nowhere near the incident.

He also reminded us that the leak of the police log itself was an illegal act that could only have been perpetrated by a policeman. The video he showed, indicated no evidence of the lengthy, heated exchange the policeman claimed had occurred.

The police had manufactured the entire incident to put the government on the back foot as they discussed matters like pensions and resourcing. Crick investigated the facts diligently and presented a clear and compelling report. The spirit of Woodward and Bernstein lives on.

Last week, I was disappointed when a Bangkok policeman scammed my taxi driver out of two pounds, it was a shocking abuse of his power. The police in the UK have shown themselves through this, and the Hillsborough scandal, to be perfectly capable of fabricating evidence on a grand scale, but have been too stupid to do it in a way that they cannot be easily caught out.

I was reading something last week that described Thailand as a corrupt third world country. I am not sure where that leaves the UK.


Tuesday, 18 December 2012

Bangkok Hilton (Bangkwaeng Prison - a BBC documentary)

I was guilty of the very thing that this blog has tried to point out in others. Prejudice. I started to watch the video having already decided that it would portray Thailand in a bad light. I was anxious to find any slight that I could report. Then the objectivity kicked in again. There was a half-hearted attempt in the opening scenes, to portray the tough living conditions in Bangkwaeng Prison in Bangkok. The narrator told us its western inmates had dubbed it the Bangkok Hilton. This is a disservice to the creators of the 1980s Australian TV series of the same name, but it gets the idea across.   Thais call it the Big Tiger because it devours its inmates. Now that is scary.

We were left in no doubt that the prison is overcrowded, that the inmate population has a raft of mental health issues (like all prisons around the world) and that general health care is poor. Then the film took the most bizarre twist, turning into what was almost a promo video for anyone who might want to take up residence. Mr. Connell from Manchester got an allowance from a British charity, food and vitamins from the Embassy and his only complaint was that his leg chains stopped him from playing football with the other boys.  They were coming off next month, so that would soon be sorted.

Other prisoners were portrayed as losers who were pretty much getting what they deserved. The sentencing was harsh but they were self-confessed criminals who seemed to blame everyone but themselves for their fate.  I was waiting for someone to say, “If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime”. Even the Thai executioner was given a top-notch billing and there was a very devout looking monk who would have made Hanging Judge Jeffries look like an emissary from a Human Rights Commission.  By this time, I was baying at the screen for them to look at the corruption that  favours the rich over the poor but  it was not that sort of film. This is a great collection of interesting clips from inside a world famous prison. It has no agenda to present a poorly argued smear campaign, but it still fails my test of good journalism.

You have to ask yourself, how the production team got unprecedented access to the inside of the prison.  You might also wonder what the Thai authorities thought when they saw the video. My guess is that they would have been thrilled.

 There are two episodes, watch them here:

Oppressive anti trafficking laws in Thailand

The picture quality is awful but in an odd way that adds to the drama of the message being delivered. This is rapidly becoming my favourite style of factual video. No editorial, no dramatic music, no attempt to infer an all emcompassing conclusion for a few thinly connected observations. It just lets those closest to the subject tell their story. This video comes from the incredible Empower Foundation  - see their web-site here:

The film shows a westerner reading a translation, of what appears to be a plea from a woman who feels that she has more to fear from those claiming to protect her from trafficking than she does from the traffickers themselves. It’s a very moving piece. You may not agree with the proposition and I encourage you to take a look at the Empower web-site before you decide, but this is one person’s testimony. You get to make up your own mind.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

Love me long time

This is a very short film, a shade over 30 minutes, and even then you get the idea that the director may have run out of material. After a promising start, with tourists and bar girls giving their take on life in Koh Samui, the scene switches to the monthly Full Moon parties on Koh Phangan. Some good shots of the young, the beautiful and the not so beautiful getting wasted on the beach, but there is no real connection to the main story. One assumes that the production team decided that if the film was less than half an hour no-one would take it seriously. After that brief interlude, its back to the plot and some of the stories set up in the first half are brought to at least a partial conclusion.

If that intro makes it sound like I didn't like it, nothing could be further from the truth. This may just be investigative journalism at its best. Because there was no presenter. The interviews were played without introduction or editorial and they spoke more eloquently than a front man reading his autocue ever could.

Barry, Tony and Justin all fell for Thailand and its women and explain exactly why that is just so easy to do. Justin's is the cautionary tale, as he discovers that things may not always be as they seem in the Land of Smiles. Nit demonstrates that you don't have to beautiful to snare a western man and explains that a monthly cash transfer will not secure a loved ones fidelity. 

They used to say that everyone going to Thailand should read Private Dancer by Stephen Leather. A quick look at this won't do you any harm either - find it here: Love me long time

This is a completely non-judgemental film and the producers should be congratulated for that. It shows that men can make idiots of themselves in Thailand if they are not careful but lets the viewer make up their own mind.

Find out more about my book Thai Lottery... and Other Stories from Pattaya, Thailand: or on Facebook at:

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Your contributions

Everyone has that moment when they are watching the TV news and want to put their foot through the screen, or the breakfast cereal goes flying because of the garbage that is on the front page of your newspaper.

If you have any good examples please let me know. Web-links are particularly welcome.

Big Trouble in Tourist Thailand - Episode 1

Episode One of Big Trouble in Tourist Thailand is pretty engaging stuff. The conspiratorially breathy delivery of the presenter, the short sharp clips of partying tourists and scantily clad go-go dancers, plus there is Howard, the most unlikely peacekeeper on the planet. More of him later.

The agenda is much the same as most of these documentaries, picking out the shock horror stories that will have you quivering in your seat, vowing never to set foot in that awful country. Unlike City Scam Bangkok, however, BTITT lets the participants do most of the talking and the viewer gets to judge the merits of each case for themselves.

We meet the Royal Marine whose boss backs him to the hilt, when he refuses to accept the blame for damage to a jet ski. The senior officer shows his cultural sensitivity by screaming at the Thai  proprietor that he is a crook, whilst the local is clearly no expert is conflict resolution either. He decides that bringing his gun to the table will expedite negotiations. The Marine continues to maintain his innocence right up until the point that the owner reminds him that he ran away when challenged and initially offered 35,000 baht as compensation. Cue collapse of the case for the defence.

Misha is the sweet but dopey party girl caught with her boyfriend's drugs, Dave is the "reformed" drug dealer, who finished his jail term in the UK and came to Thailand for a new start... dealing drugs. Both seemed to be of the view that they knew what they were doing was wrong, but the Thais seemed so nice, they never thought they would be punished for it. We are invited to feel sorry for people who broke the law, because the punishment; widely publicised, is really tough. Thanks but I think I will pass.

Howard is the star of the show. A police volunteer, his job is to keep tourists out of jail rather than send them to it. He endures a stream of invective from a drunken Aussie, then tells the boy's father to look after him because he is drunk. If you spoke like that to a western policeman, you might just accidentally fall down the stairs of the cell block.

I was sure I would detest BTITT, but I  am pleasantly surprised by Episode 1.  For the moment I am working on the basis that the producers have a highly developed sense of irony. They let the aggrieved parties speak for themselves, then the presenter invites the viewer to sympathise with their rough treatment at the hands of the locals. Meanwhile the director is saying "Look at this dickhead" can you believe the trouble he got himself into?

Episode 2 awaits.

View episode one at :

Check out Thai Lottery, my new book at:

Friday, 14 December 2012

Scam City update

My last post looked at Scam City - Bangkok a show that informed us that -

1. The capital city has a few bars where you might get ripped off.
2. Shop owners pay commission people who introduce business to them
3. Some of the women are only after older men for their money.

If you live in the capital city of any country in the world - where ALL of the above do not apply, please contact me.

If you want to read about the fleshpots of Thailand but would like a more balanced interpretation of what goes on, then read:

Thai Lottery... and Other Stories from Pattaya, Thailand by Matt Carrell

Find it at your favourite e-book retailer or check out 

Check out my blog on writing your first book:

Scam City - a poor excuse for documentary TV

Their expose on the Watergate affair made Woodward and Bernstein the most celebrated investigative journalists on the planet. The military conflicts of the late 20th and early 21st century have seen another generation of reporters risking their lives covering stories from the front line. What young journalist would not want to follow those role models? Finding the story that makes the world sit up and take notice.

The problem is that that takes talent, dedication and a commitment to discover the truth. It is so much easier to latch onto a convenient stereotype and then try to make a few loosely connected observations support the conclusion you have already made. Enter Conor Woodman and the team that made Scam City – Bangkok.

It’s only fair to let you make up your own mind so you can watch it on YouTube. Just click here -

To save you some time, I can offer a brief précis. Mr Woodman discovered that –

1.     If you hook up with a Bangkok local and ask him to find a bar in the city where you will definitely be ripped off, he will be able to locate such a bar.
2.     The very shabbily dressed guy outside the temple holding bags of bird food may want a token contribution, should you accept one of those bags.
3.     There is a jewellery store owner who pays taxi drivers commission to bring tourists to his store. If you speak fast enough you may be able to get a driver to say “Yes” when you suggest the owner may hurt him.
4.     Some beautiful 24 year old Thai girls may not be 100% true to their 65 year old foreign “boyfriends”, who are hoping that in exchange for a couple of thousand dollars a month they will sit in a darkened room, coming out only to shag them senseless on the foreigners next visit.

Mr Woodman, you have no more chance of winning a Pulitzer Prize for this piece of drivel than you had of winning a BAFTA for your uncredited performance as a police constable in a cop show back in 2002.

The production team was desperate to portray Thailand as a dangerous, venal and immoral country and did all they could to find some evidence to support the premise. This isn’t journalism; it’s small minded racist bigotry. The message is “Stay at home in cosy little England/USA/Australia where those nasty foreigners cannot get you”.

The “show”, as the presenter called it opens with Mr Woodman’s local ex-pat guide, a man called Jim. We are encouraged to believe that they choose a bar at random from the thousands in Bangkok. Jim carefully selects the one type of bar which is renowned for its scams, an upstairs “ping pong” show in Patpong. The bar plays its part by delivering a hugely inflated bill.  Most Thailand regulars will know that the correct response is to smile say there has been some mistake and offer a reasonable payment. This will be declined, at which point the regular will smile again and say, “no problem, we call tourist police”. The bar owner will then make a compromise. Perhaps Jim did not do that because, in spite of his grasp of the language; he had not been in Thailand long, or maybe he just wanted to pick a fight for the cameras. I wonder.

The scenes purporting to show devious bar girls conning poor unsuspecting foreigners out of a monthly cash payment were lame beyond belief. This was a so-called “investigative” reporter feigning horror that the girls were pretending to be someone they are not in return for cash. I suspect the irony was lost on him. If you want to see many beautiful women, bolstering the egos of westerners they would not normally look at, in return for cash, try googling something like “Footballers Wives and Girlfriends”. “Same same” as they say in Thailand.

The “jewellery scam” scenes were the true nadir of the piece. Apparently a New Yorker was unable to sell the jewellery he bought in Thailand at a profit, once he got back to New York. Try that with the gems you buy in your own country.  We were expected to be shocked that a store-owner might pay commission to people that route business to his shop. The drivers who work for him were provocatively described as a “gang”. Thai people frequently say “Yes”, when confronted with a foreigner speaking quickly. Handy for a lazy reporter, who wants to elicit an eye-catching revelation. The tuk tuk driver who agreed to be interviewed was smiling broadly as he agreed that the store-owner might kill him.

There is obviously a market for this sort of thing; somebody commissioned an entire series set all around the world. If you have already decided that little brown people are fundamentally untrustworthy and places like Thailand are dirty, filthy and dangerous, then Scam City is the “show” for you. If you want to be informed then steer well clear.

You couldn't make it up. But they do.

Thai Lottery... and Other Stories from Pattaya, Thailand, is set in the most notorious town of a country which often seems synonymous with the sex industry.

As I was writing the book, I became increasingly aware of the preconceptions that many people have about the country. It is rich in culture, famed for it's food and hospitality and may just be the best place in the world to take a family holiday. Yet a man who tells his friends that he is visiting Thailand is inviting a knowing glance, a telling wink and a conspiratorial, "well we know what you will be getting up to then". I am acutely aware that my books may not help matters, because Thai Lottery tells the stories of the people who come to Thailand because of its "adult offering" and of the girls they meet. But it is a work of fiction. I was intrigued by what the media had to say.

I started to scour the TV listings, YouTube and the printed press to see their take on Thailand. The message was unanimous. It's is a sink hole of depravity, where the average visitor will be ripped off before he makes it out of the airport and if you throw a stick in the street you will hit at least a couple of women who are for sale for the change in your pocket.

My book tries to portray and more complex Thailand, the stories seek to see things from the Thai perspective too. I was finding the stereotype offensive. Lazy journalists looking for a story to support a prejudice firmly established in people's minds. As this blog develops I plan on looking at some of the worst offenders, including the "documentary" makers who can't be bothered to find the facts because they may not fit the conclusions they have already drawn.

My book focuses on the darker side of life in Thailand but it is fiction. These guys present their work as fact.

Please come back to see my reviews of how the media portrays Thailand

Thai Lottery can be found at

Also check out the travails of a first time author at