BANGKOK — Confusion and unrest turned to contrition today as the Thai news media admitted that a master control operator working for its public broadcasting service fell asleep at the switch and accidentally replayed footage of the country’s 2006 military coup.
The “regrettable, though not uncommon error” sent the nation into panic, under the mistaken belief that a military junta again seized control of the government last Thursday. Were it the case, it would have made for the 12th coup d’état in the past eight decades.
Even the ailing 86-year-old King Bhumibol Aduljadejsince was swept up in the misunderstanding, releasing a statement indicating that the palace endorsed the military junta. Such royal backing has proven crucial to the success of previous uprisings, the lack of which contributed to the failure of the so-called April Fool’s Day coup of 1978.
“Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” said news director Sukrit Bidaya, “but everyone expects a Thai coup.” After suffering months of political stalemate, economic strain, and sometimes-violent street protests, “the nation was fully expecting a revolution of some sort. It took nothing more than an out-of-context video clip to convince them it was actually happening, even when it wasn’t.”
Not everyone in the public was ready to embrace the illusory overthrow. Anti-coup demonstrators gathered in the capital waved signs reading, “Democracy has always been aborted. When will it be born?”
“I guess, in this instance, we were a bit premature in our protest against military rule,” said Sang Punyodyana, one of the dissenters. “But I’ll continue to keep a bunch of these signs at the ready. One can never be too prepared in this country.”
General Prayuth Chan-ocha urged “cooperation from all civil servants and police to be patient, sacrifice and accept the principle of ridding the country from conflict” and confusion. He also issued a more general warning to citizens, “Don’t believe everything you see on TV.”
As for the news media itself, the general wanted to ensure that such a misunderstanding would not happen again on his watch. To this end, he ordered international television channels to cease broadcasts and banned unfavorable coverage of the coup mix-up until “they get their act together.”