The Mainstream Media’s Normalization of Censorship and One-Sided Information about Thai Monarchy
Years of mainstream mass media self-censorship on any information and news critical about the Thai monarchy and their incessant supply of mostly one-sided and positive-only information about the royal institution is unlikely to change anytime soon since there’s no outrage or even public introspection by major media associations and corporations.
It is likely that after five decades of one-sided information and self-censorship, such things have become something rather normal and natural for media associations and organizations. When the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), the kingdom’s leading media association, recently held a symposium to marked the annual World Press Freedom Day, the issue of the lese majeste law, self-censorship of anything critical of the monarchy and the one-sided positive-only information about the monarchy was not on even the agenda.
The growing cry for basic freedom of expression after the death in custody of 61-year-old lese majeste detainee Amphon “Akong” Tangnoppakul also seems to means little and it’s business as usual for Thai media.
The Thai mainstream mass media can come up with a number of off-the-record justifications for why they cannot and will not adhere to the notion of press freedom when it comes to anything critical of the monarchy.
First, there’s the lese majeste law itself, with its 15-year maximum imprisonment term, coupled with the Computer Crimes Act - easy excuses for the media to censor, self-censor and say they are just observing the law.
They say advertisements on newspapers and commercials on television can also be severely affected if a media corporation developed a reputation of being critical of the monarchy.
One newspaper editor also once told me of the fearful spectre of big media corporation facing stock price crash due to ultra-royalist’s backlash if they dare to try to be persistently critical of the monarchy institution.
To make the matter worse, some in the media say they believed that most Thais are not educated enough to be able to differentiate fact from fiction, right from wrong.
If we, journalists, failed to recognize the abnormality and negative repercussion of the lese majeste law and the prevailing climate of fear, censorship and self-censorship, then we fail to live up to the ideal of informing the public with fear or favour, about an institution which is at the heart of Thai society.
Journalists who failed to see the abnormality and to speak out are first to be blamed because they have effectively acted as a willing and active partner in the censorship process as well as the supply of one-sided positive-only news and information about the Thai monarchy.
To be honest, it is hard to imagine the prevailing stance changing anytime soon. Perhaps the burden of pointing out the abnormality of the situation falls upon the growing number of ordinary citizens who recognize the magnitude of the problem.
Perhaps it all will have to start with a few journalists daring enough to call spade a spade, and for the public to demand transparency and accountability from both media corporations and the royal institution.
On Twitter, I have onerously tried to open up the debate on the lese majeste law and the need to discuss critically about Thai monarchy.
On Monday (May 14) one Twitter user by the Twitter account of @Shar_Thonglor argued with me stating in English: “Thailand is not ready for freedom of speech. There’s lot of maturing which needs to be done before they can handle it.”
Another Thai Twitter user (@polasit) replied in English: “The same old thing – Thais are not ready cuz of being [sic] uneducated. Freedom of speech has nothing to do with that!”
Even a Westerner, by the name of Rob von Gelder (@steadirob), joined this particular thread of debate by tweeting back to @Shar_Thonglor and myself saying: “And who are you to preach and tell the people that THEY are not ready? You must think very highly of yourself.”
Perhaps there is some hope after all, even though it’s not to be found on mainstream mass media in general.