Tiring and risky work of Anchalee

Outspoken broadcaster Anchalee Phaireerak rules the rally stage as an MC for the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters. A focal point of attention at Ratchaprasong intersection, the main anti-government rally stage, she has what it takes to entertain the crowd and turn the rally into a colourful gathering. In an interview with Nauvarat Suksamran, she talks about how her life has changed since joining the PDRC-led protest and what the protest means to her and the country.

How did you join the PDRC?

Originally I worked at Blue Sky, hosting a daily morning news programme. The Democrat Party then launched its "Exposing the Truth" forum, which later evolved into a rally stage against the amnesty bill, which first started at Samsen. That was the first time the party took its political activities on to the streets and the party needed an MC who is a mass media personality free of political ties. This was the starting point for me to become an MC on the Samsen stage. Many people already know me since I hosted a news programme when I twice joined the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

While I worked at Blue Sky, Sathit Wongnongtoey approached me to help because I also acted as a media watchdog providing information for the Democrat leader. Initially, I tried to ensure Blue Sky would play a role as a normal news channel reporting events. I also proposed that the [Samsen] rally must not extol the party leader or other party heavyweights as in rallies hosted by political parties. The rally must distance itself from political parties.

On the second day of the Samsen rally, efforts were made to shake off the Democrats’ image and turn the rally stage into a forum focusing on public issues. I returned to political rallies after the PAD ended its protest in 2009. When I began to walk up the stairs on to the rally stage, I realised that from then on my life would never be the same. Many people were excited that I was making a comeback. Even my father was surprised when I decided to join without hesitation.

What was your duty at the Ratchadamnoen rally stage, and your role in the formation of the PDRC? Why did you get hit with an arrest warrant for doing the job of an MC?

I am not a PDRC co-leader. From the beginning, I did not attend the meetings of PDRC leaders. I do my duty on stage. I can work independently. I got the arrest warrant probably because they think my role has a wide impact. Media members possess the power of the pen to tell what’s happening. Those who have the microphone also use it to communicate their messages through TV. Each day, we know what news we present to the people so we used the Blue Sky channel to make the Ratchadamnoen rally stage popular. We have done nothing wrong. We do not distort information. But we raise news issues each day. We host morning programmes at 6 in the morning and by evening we know the theme of each day. Sometimes, the co-leaders disagree, but they can talk it through.

Give us an example of your mission during the rally.

When the protesters first spread out to close and seize the Finance Ministry, we got leaked information that police planned to move in and arrest [the PDRC secretary-general] Suthep Thaugsuban. We discussed it with co-leaders who were taking care of the rally stage. One of them is an engineer and he printed out a Google map of the ministry showing a network of routes around it. We agreed that protesters must be mobilised to block all routes to the ministry to prevent police from entering. It was found that cars and vehicles were efficient shields, so we called for vehicles to be brought in to help us. In no time, many vehicles came in and surrounded the ministry, blocking the police’s attempt to make arrests.

They say the protesters listen to you because you are able to solve the problems that arise unexpectedly to avoid violent clashes. Is this true?

It is not easy to work the crowd and cool them down. When we lead them out in a demonstration, we must know how to ensure they return to the rally sites safely. We have to communicate with the masses — for example, when we led the protesters to the prime minister’s residence. There were more than 10,000 of us. Someone was trying to instigate violence, but we told the protesters to keep an eye out for violent people. They were not peaceful protesters, they were not us. There had been calls for protesters who surrounded the prime minister’s house to help fellow protesters who were attacked by tear gas in Din Daeng [district on Dec 26]. If we had failed to handle the crowd [surrounding the premier’s residence], more people would have died or been injured.

You are admired by many people. But questions have been raised over the benefits or privileges which supporters and admirers give to the protest co-leaders. What do you say to that?

I have never received them. I have never asked for them. I know that when I joined the protest, many people loved me. But I make it known to everyone that if they have things to offer, they will be put in a common pool shared by members of the team. Someone wanted to give me crystal or gold whistles, but I declared that they don’t need to give me precious things. But if they offer food, it will be put in a common pool.

How have the political rallies changed your life, for better or worse?

When I first joined the protest [led by the PAD], my life was typical. I just hosted a news programme as I usually do. When I joined the protest the second time, I faced a charge and had difficulty travelling abroad. I had to obtain permission from the court before I could do that. Each trip was very hard and time-consuming. But this time, I admit that my life has changed a lot and will never be the same.

This time, a lot more people have joined the protest. More confrontations, more violence. Opponents are clearly visible. We must think of how to proceed smoothly, to keep losses to a minimum.

MCs, as important a rallying point as they are, must take precautions. This protest we are holding is the most dangerous, most tiring, most risky. But if we can get past it, we will move towards a pivotal change for society and we will play an important part in making changes. So, we agree with the [protest’s] slogan "Shut Down for Change". This gives us moral buoyancy and propels us forward.

Sometimes, I am very tired and barely have the strength to step on to the rally stage. The Blue Sky channel has devised a strategy for us to host a morning news programme so the audience can compare the news with that they watch on free-to-air television. We put forth news that is not carried by other channels. It is our strategy to compare news and present it responsibly.

Some people might be curious about how I manage to get any sleep. They see me all the time. I sleep during the daytime. I have to change my beautiful curtains [in the bedroom] to dark colours so I can sleep.

When I was issued with an arrest warrant, it felt like being already in jail. I could not go out anywhere unless security guards took me. I couldn’t sleep. But there are many patriotic doctors around here and they have given me some sleeping pills and steroid injections.

During this protest, I am both loved and hated. The people in this country are now divided. For those who love me, I take care not to let others down. I always have to remind myself and ask my close friends to remind me of my obligation.

Share your thoughts

Back to top

More From Bangkokpost.com