Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand president's report for 2016-7

Thank you for coming tonight. We are all here because of a shared belief in this club, a perception that it is something worthwhile to be encouraged and nurtured.

I would suggest to you that the FCCT is one of the most unexclusive, open clubs in Thailand -- possibly all of Southeast Asia. Our membership continues to hover around 800 and is remarkably and wonderfully diverse with at least 46 nationalities represented from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe. We maintain a rare tradition in this region of openness, of free speech, of fairness - hallmarks of a good old-fashioned press club. We have a sense of fun, curiosity, and occasional rigour -- when it is needed. We listen but don't lecture, and speak up when we feel something looks wrong, particularly regarding freedom of speech.

We are the oldest press club in this region, and remain the largest and most active. Despite all the agonies traditional media have endured, we still have a high proportion of correspondents and journalists - just under 18 per cent combined. Correspondent numbers have remained relatively stable at between 80 and 90, but we have seen a dramatic drop in journalists from 137 in 2008 to 49 today.

The FCCT has a lot going for it. We are located in what remains mainland Southeast Asia's most important reporting hub. All key stories in this region have come through Bangkok since the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, and the torrent continues.

The club has an unbeatable location in central Bangkok with excellent public transport and parking. We have a supportive landlord who genuinely values our presence. We have excellent staff and facilities. We have every opportunity to improve our situation providing our members support us with their presence and patronage. This is a unique oasis in a discombobulating city. Use it, treasure it, don't take it for granted. Improve it with your presence. Work here when you need a perch in the city. Arrange to meet people at the FCCT so that you will never be lonely.

Clubhouse Improvements
If you have not visited in a while, you will notice some changes. The Executive Committee has long recognized that upgrades are essential. The clubhouse has looked tired, and unappealing for many years, and the noisy air-conditioning has been disruptive, inefficient, and expensive to run. Upon lifting the carpets, it was discovered that two of the standalone split units had been sweating, and considerable areas of the wooden floor around them had rotted. It was probably only a matter of months before a sofa and occupant plunged into the abyss beneath.

The FCCT staff have been hard at work since the new year with paint brushes and other tools, and the long overdue renovations have been pushed through. There is still touching up to be done, but the old parquet and carpeted areas have been entirely replaced with durable hard flooring that is lighter and more appealing, and will be easier to maintain in the years to come.

The clubhouse has been repainted in white and dove grey for a fresher look that provides a pleasing backdrop and shows photographs to better advantage. Softer, more economic lighting has been installed. Sunken power sockets have been fitted along the raised window side and elsewhere to facilitate more flexible seating and table arrangements. An extended step has been built in the centre for questioners and extra camera positions.

A new air-conditioning system with ceiling-mounted cassettes has been installed, and we fully intend to test it with packed houses in the dog months of March to May. Various improvements to furnishings will be made, including renovating the existing dining tables so that the hideous table cloths can be removed, and save on laundry.

A proper counter will be installed at the entrance, finally placing the office off limits to unauthorized people. A new router has already been installed, and the quality of the club's Wi-Fi is now as good as anywhere in the central business district. The projector has been replaced, and there is a new photocopier, so members can print out or copy documents as needed. The office has new computers, and proper backup equipment. The point-of-sales system is being updated, and our food and beverage procurement processes are being overhauled. You can now order from a decent choice of tea, including Assam and Darjeeling, and the coffee is better.

The Maneeya Center has meanwhile installed new washrooms in the lift lobby area entirely at its own cost of around 600,000 baht. These replace the old clubhouse toilets, freeing up space for storage. The clubhouse and corridor have been cleared of clutter. Refrigerators and gaudy signage have been removed entirely from the bar area, and the noisy, gale-force air conditioners have been removed. With all this clutter gone, the club's usable floorspace has been significantly increased, particularly in the bar area. With the possibility of increased refrigeration capacity in the storeroom, we can now contemplate improving our wine and beer selections.

The FCCT is proud of its record on programmes, and few press clubs around the world can compete with it. Last night we had a full house for Chuwit Kamolvisit, Thailand's former massage parlour king, politician, and jailbird, and next week we are taking a look at the controversy behind Thailand's female monks. Only in Thailand at the FCCT.

Programmes will be a key focus in the year to come, and that is reflected in the people on the incoming board. First Vice President Pailin Wedel has already established Monday nights for documentaries in a team-up with the Documentary Club of Thailand. These are consistently attracting full houses. Amanda Mustard came on board last year, and has taken our photography exhibitions in hand.

Both Pailin and Amanda have full slates for 2017. As a press club, and it is only right that the FCCT should showcase the work of fine photographers and documentary makers, and not get distracted with paintings or art house films. We also have plans to promote sales of books in the clubhouse - providing they are the work of a member.

Special events, sponsors, and revenue
I have been a member of the FCCT for over 30 years, and have never seen a period of such strained relations with the government of the day as in recent years. Since the coup of May 2014, four fairly routine press events (some of which were organized by outside parties) have been stopped by the authorities. I am glad to say that this problem has eased off in the past year. We remain under routine surveillance, but programmes and press conferences are basically going ahead unhindered and we have good working relations with Lumpini police station. We were able to devote a number of programmes to topics like the new constitution, terrrorism, and the media, and there will be more in the year to come.

Since 2014, we have had only two cabinet ministers visit the club, and there have been no prime minister's dinners even though relations with the ministry of foreign affairs are cordial enough. Among other things, this has impacted our financial situation, but the club must learn to view big-ticket political functions as icing on the cake, not core revenue. There have been other periods when the government was reluctant to engage with the FCCT, and the club survived. Outside sponsorships have also fallen away, and no corporates that we are aware of have an interest in sponsoring the FCCT in the present political climate.

Professional matters
The FCCT has continued to issue occasional statements on behalf of the club's professional membership, particularly on matters relating to freedom of speech, defamation, and violence against journalists. Last year saw a serious tightening- up of issuances of M-Visas, which caused particular problems for photographers and videographers. The club lobbied quietly and successfully for some new and renewal applicants, and has recently been discussing documentation requirements. It has been agreed that an embassy letter will serve in lieu of a certificate of incorporation for a media company, which had been a new requirement that proved quite problematic in some instances. The number of supporting clips and translation/summary requirements for an application are still being discussed with the information department, but reductions are likely. The FCCT's efforts have been to help make the M-Visa process more transparent and less onerous for all concerned.

Honorary Life Membership
Nirmal Ghosh stepped down as president last August when his reassignment to Washington was confirmed. He served as president on a number of occasions, moderated numerous events including a number of prime minister's dinners, and handled various problems, including attacks on the club and some of its members by activists abusing Thailand's controversial defamation laws.

In compliance with FCCT By-law XVII (4), Nirmal's nomination has been approved by all 13 members of the outgoing Executive Committee, and three others who stood down during the course of the year. I would ask that all here tonight show their support for this motion.

Thank you.

Dominic Faulder

9 February 2017

Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand
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