Report on the 2009 Media Situation-2009 “the Year Media Being Used to Wage Political War”

Report on the 2009 Media Situation
2009 “the Year Media Being Used to Wage Political War”


Over the past year, Thai media has been working very hard amid a highly divisive political and social environment. Members of the media were under pressure, some threatened, to choose side or “colors” by very opposing political hardliners.

Yet, it is another year the media faces a tough test of its fairness and impartiality. The media is being questioned on whether it performs its duty in the interest of the public or for other purposes at the time many people tend to believe that the media has significantly contributed to the escalation of the conflicts.

It is the year the media professional principles—a commitment towards correctness, comprehensiveness, a balanced reporting and fair spaces for all sides-- was challenged, obscured and confused to the extent that no truth of the matters in the news could be established.  Nonetheless, there are two important and interesting incidents worth noting about.

Firstly, the Thai society acknowledges the power of new media, especially the impact of the web 2.0 phenomena on news revolution which opens up a chance for people to write news via websites and develop it into the internet social network using twitter, facebook, wordpress or myspace and etc. These new media tools allow senders and receivers to communicate with each others with ease and speed. Therefore, it is a positive and welcome development in the Thai media that these new media tools take away news spaces, ending a news monopoly long commanded by mainstream media like newspapers, television and radio stations .

Secondly, a great number of political media was created and single-handedly used to achieve political goals by both politicians and political groups and interested groups in the society. These media outlets includes community radios, satellite televisions, newspapers and websites and etc. This type of media tends to give viewers and listeners more opinions and philosophy than facts and comprehensive information.  On the contrary, their information is propagandistic, impartial, bias tones bending towards inciting conflict, rife and hate that could potentially destroy those hold adverse views and positions.

Given these situations, Thai Journalists Association (TJA) views that this year, each side (in political conflicts) has used “the media to wage political war” that adversely holds sway a social perception that the media in general is “an agent of political crisis and bring obstacles to the solution to the conflict”.
TJA, therefore, would like to make following recommendations;

1.We urge that the government use state media in disseminating information in a straightforward manner without distortion. It shall refrain from any action or attempt that could be interpreted as interfering with the media works, be there direct or indirect ways, or shall not block any medium of information. It is encouraged to use transparent and fair legal process to address the media outlets which break the laws and not resorting to other unlawful means to restrict freedom of expression.

2.We call upon the media community comprising  newspapers, radios and televisions that have long been members of the mainstream media to adhere to media professional ethics-- correctness, comprehensiveness, fairness--, to maintain its professionalism in searching for truth with strong supporting background and evidence, to bring out the truth of the matters to the public both in quantity and quality, and to perform their duties in the interest of the  country and the people.

3.We urge that the “media for political purpose” shall neither distort information nor incite conflicts that could potentially be developed into violence. News and information must be presented in correct and comprehensive fashion. Opinion shall be balanced with good argument, and without ill intention to cause misunderstanding among the public of a situation that could potentially bring violence.

4.We call upon the public that is currently flooded with tons of information to have good judgment and thoroughly review the information received. Those who receive information from particular political media groups must allow themselves to hear from other media sources and shall not easily believe in propaganda that could lead them to make wrong decisions.

Finally, TJA views that the political conflict in 2010 will escalate. We urge the media to adhere to their rightful duty to protect the national and public interest. We urge that all sides stop using the media to wage the political war for the sake of their own vested interest parties and always bear in mind the quotes from the book titled “Media on the Moral Path according to Budda That ” written by the late revered monk Buddha That that “ We cannot say that the media is good or bad.. But we can use it. If we use it wrong, it will cause great damage meaning it would turn the word we live in into the world without peace and happiness”.

Media Roundups for 2009
The TJA press freedom and media reform committee is fully aware of the role of the media. It, therefore, summed up the media situation in 2009 in seven categories to serve as a reminder for the media of all branches so that they are aware of their duty and protect this prestigious professional institution.

1.Media and its Duty in Conflict Situation
The media has been victimized to the highly-polarised political conflict over the past year in several instance as follows:

-A failed killing attempt against founder of Manager Media Groups Sondhi Limthongkul who was among leaders of anti-Thaksin Yellow-Shirts movement.

-The “Red Shirts’ announcement that it would no longer guarantee the safety of the media covering during the April riots caused the media to retreat from the rally site. A spokesman of the group later held a press conference denying such instruction was in place.

-Radio news host Jom Petpradab voluntarily quit the news program he hosted on Mass Community Organisation of Thailand Public Co., Ltd.’s 100.5 MHZ radio station after he  interviewed fugitive leader Thaksin Shinawatra who is wanted by the government.

-Three Thai reporters from the Nation Multimedia Group  covering the visit to Cambodian by Thaksin was briefly detained by Cambodian authorities upon their visit to Prey Sor Prison to find out about a detained engineer Sivarak Chutipong who had been detained for stealing flight schedules of Thaksin. The three were eventually released upon an intervention by a Cambodian politician.

Residents living near Ka Lae reservoir staged a protest to expulse Sorayuth Suthasanajinda host of Channel 3’s new program for alledgein unfair reporting. Sorayuth and the residents eventually sorted out the matter peacefully.
The war of words via media between Vasana Nanguam and Gen Surayuth Chulanont over the former’s reporting in her “Lab Luang Prang (Secret, Deceive and Disguise) political news program that the latter would act as a middleman between the government and fugitive leader Thaksin Shinawatra. Surayudh categorily denied the report and lamented Vasana exploited his good relationship with her as a reporter and news source.

2.Negative Image and Criticism against Media’s Duty
Consumers Protection Committee submitted a protest letter to TJA over local newspapers’ front page coverage that displayed inappropriate images and contents of a boy being chopped to death. This led TJA ethics committee to circulate a letter to the media about the incident and urging the media to adhere to the media code of ethics in their reporting.

The controversial distribution of a brewery company’s calendars carrying nude pictures in the compound of the Government House caused a public and media backlash. It was found to violate the Alcohol Control Act. Among those who received the calendars includes some photographers of the media outlets. The government official who distributed the controversial calendars eventually resigned to take responsibility for her action.

A group of members of parliament from a political party staged a fund raising at a New Year party to give media a special treat with “bathing”. The party’s spokesman later denied the bathing meant for taking the media to massage parlor but for seaside or waterfall incursion.  At any rate, TJA issued a statement reprimanding the media individuals who accepted such treatment which was deemed as taking bribe and an insult to the media.  It also urged editors to further investigate the truth about this incident including whether any of their media workers took money from politicians and, that disciplinary actions shall be taken against those workers for breaching organisational rules.

3.Progress in legal cases against the media

On 30 November, Criminal Court sentenced six leaders of Caravan of the Poor to three-year unsuspended imprisonment and ordered a fine of 189 baht each for conspiring up of at least five people to cause people to feel threatened to their lives, to detain and obstruct freedom of people, and to breach the Amplifier Advertisement Control Act of 1950. The convicted led a crowd to surround the office building of Nation Group on 30 March 2006.  Due to their good cooperation during the investigation, the court reduced the prison terms for each to two-year unsuspended imprisonment and a fine amount to 180 baht for Defendant 1,3,4 and 6 and to 120 baht for Defendant 2 and 5.

4.Closure of “Lese Majeste” Websites
The government’s clear policy to crackdown on “lese-majeste” website resulted in a closure of a large number of websites. On 6 January, Information and Communication Minister announced that more than 2,000 websites having contents deemed as lese majeste have been closed down. Moreover Ministry of Defense has ordered agencies under its direct command and commanders of all forces to monitor and coordinate with Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) to find appropriate measures to address and solve the problem. The test case was a police search at the office of online news publication and the arrest of its manager Chiranuch Premchaiporn on 6 March 2009 for allowing lese majeste contents to be posted on its webboard between 15 October and 3 November 2008.

5.Economic Crisis and its Impact on the Media
-The global economic meltdown caused two local media outlets to close down its operation. GG E-News Network Co., Ltd. announced a termination of contract to operate its news program on the Armed Forces’ FM 98.0MHz , causing a number of its reporters to become jobless. Than Setthakit economic newspaper lay off 60 workers because of its business loss.

-A regional foreign magazine Far Eastern Economic Review also announced a termination of its operation in December due a business loss.

An advertisement report of February 2009 showed that media advertisement budget was amounted to 6.33 billion baht, representing a decrease by 6.28 Per Cent of the same period. All the media faces the same crunch except transit media whose growth was recorded at 27.25 Per Cent.

6.The Boom of New Media and Media Technology

The convergence of a technologically-diverse media like 3G, SMS and Twitter and a polarization of Thai politics caused a burgeoning of media outlets. The new media outlets were created over the past year in order to serve their political purpose and supporters.

-PM Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoei, member of the Democratic Party-lead government ordered Channel 11’s present name to be changed from National Broadcasting Television (NBT) to Thai TV Station.

Manager Group’s satellite- transmitted ASTV extended its news service in English language on TAN (Thai-ASEAN News Network).

-Thaksin’s supporters set up Democratic TV channel, Red News newspaper and Truth Today magazine , Thaksinlive website and Voice TV whose assistant managing director is Thaksin’ son Panthongthae Shinawatra.

7.Mass Killing of 30 Filipino journalists
On 23 November 2009, 31 journalists were abducted and killed among 57 people in an ambush by a group of some 100 armed men. They were travelling in a caravan of vehicles led by a wife of a local politician who headed for the town seat to file a candidacy for a gubernatorial election of Maguindanao province, Philippines for her husband Mangindadatu. 30 bodies of the media workers were found buried at the site nearby while one still missing.

It was the largest number of journalists being killed in one incident. TJA has attached a great importance to the incident. It has sent a representative on a fact-finding mission to Philippines as well as organized a public talk about the incident to serve as a reminder for the Thai media. Besides, it has released a state of condolence on the eve of one-month anniversary of the incident on 23 December and submitted a letter to President Gloria Arroyo via Philippine Ambassador to Thailand Antonio Venus Rodriguez calling upon Arroyo’s government to investigate and bring killers and masterminds to full justice. TJA also helped contribute to humanitarian fund for families of the dead journalists.