Some Observations on Mass Media and Freedom of Expression in Thailand

In today’s Thailand, many Thais see one-sided positive-only information about the monarchy and Thai mainstream mass media self-censorship as well as censorship on anything mildly critical of the monarchy as something ‘normal’. Little if any fuzz was made by pro-Thaksin mass media when a film mocking and criticizing Thaksin Shinawatra, entitled ‘Shakespeare Must Die’, was banned for good by the Film Board.

Little complaints were made when well-known writer and TV host Kamphaga was told by Voice TV to stop criticizing Buddhism after the TV station came under pressure from a red-shirt Buddhist group.

When the London-based The Economist Magazine decided not to sell its recent weekly magazine (again) in Thailand for fear of violating the draconian lese majeste law, people accept it as the order of the day.

What to do with the prevailing and limited freedom of expression in Thailand then?

While most in Thai mainstream mass media are doing their best to ensure that the public accept censorship and self-censorship as something ‘normal’, it falls upon alternative media as committed journalists, and others, to point out that there’s nothing ‘normal’ about it.

Those who still see censorship, self-censorship and one-sided positive-only information about the monarchy as a problem must ensure that society is cajoled from the state of sedation and point out to the negative repercussion the prevailing situation has for democracy and the state of freedom of expression.

It falls upon alternative media and concerned journalists as well as individuals to try to de-monopolize the agenda-setting hegemonic power of the mainstream mass media. Failing to do so, elites of various political factions, famous personalities will continue to unfairly dominate news headlines and socio-political and economic agendas.

The goal is to ensure that no single media-group can or should dominate news headlines or set social agenda any longer. In a way bloggers, Twitter and Facebook users and on-line alternative media are already undermining the hegemonic power of the mainstream mass media, but a vast majority of Thais still have no access to the internet.

Continued decentralization of media power will help foster democracy and freedom of expression as well. Defending and advancing freedom of expression is vital. Media professionals who do not recognize the value of freedom of expression might seriously consider working in the PR industry or with state’s propaganda agencies instead.

Freedom of expression cannot blossom without tolerance for diverse view and opinion, however. Thai society will have to debunk the belief that differing view is something innately negative that results in conflicts. Instead, it must try to recognize the intrinsic value of open debate and disagreement in democratic society.

Press freedom and freedom of expression will not serve society at large if only powerful and famous figures always dominate news headlines and are regularly interviewed while marginalized people have little or no space to express themselves about what they think through the mass media. It is imperative for the mass media, especially alternative media to try to introduce to the public new voices, especially from underprivileged and marginalized groups and act as an amplifier for these people to have greater voice and dialogue with the rest of society.

Alternative media, or media committed to fostering democracy must avoid the pitfall of being too cozy with any public figures, no matter how progressive or liberal these people may seem to be. Media should stick with democratic principles rather than democratic figures, because human beings are subjected to change and a progressive activist three decades ago may today be part of the oppressive ruling class.

One of the often mistaken notions in society is the belief that media impartiality means journalists should not choose or take side between democracy and dictatorship. That is not impartiality but a mere lack of will to take a stance. While journalists must not intentionally distort views of others, including conservative forces, and must ensure space for these views as well, it doesn’t mean they should find both democracy and dictatorship equally valid in order to be seen as ‘impartial’. This is no impartiality but the abandonment of responsibility to create a more just and equitable society.

In the end, however, a truly democratic media must subject itself to public scrutiny and even question the validity of the notion of democracy and freedom of expression as well. Media organization has no moral right to scrutinize others if its organization is not willing to be openly subject to scrutiny, criticism and made it-self transparent and accountable to society.

In the end, there is no room for dogmatism if society is to be in a perpetual state of learning, introspection and freedom. A big doze of doubt on all ideologies and institutions are always useful and healthy.

All these cannot be realized if media professionals think of their work as just another job. The task of progressive media in fostering freedom of expression is more than just another job but a calling.

Comments

When the London-based The

When the London-based The Economist Magazine decided not to sell its recent weekly magazine (again) in Thailand for fear of violating the draconian lese majeste law, people accept it as the order of the day.

The Economist decided ... or the Thai distributor of The Economist decided? (see PPT)

The Economist article is on

The Economist article is on Amphon, and i ends with ...

Ms Yingluck, however, has barely objected. She appears to want to appease the royal bureaucracy, embodied in the figure of General Prem Tinsulanonda, the head of the privy council, so as to smooth the way for the return to Thailand of her elder brother by the end of the year. Mr Thaksin has been living in self-imposed exile in order to avoid a prison term for corruption in his homeland. Meanwhile, Mr Ampon has died a lonely death in a prison hospital, and the country’s reputation is tarnished.

... so it may well be the present regime that had it pulled from the stands. Who is the distributer for the Economist, Pravit? You're tight with folks like that, right?

More snide remarks from our

More snide remarks from our very own resident thought-policeman, John Francis (the 'Francis' is very important so he can be clearly distinguished from all the other John lee's here - as if being a clod wasn't sufficient for that) Lee.

I expect he'll be calling you a racist soon Pravit, that seems to be the limit of his scholastic talent. I notice he didn't offer any constructive comments in reply to your post, probably his IQ doesn't run to that. Throwing generalisations at others is abut his limit.

Still, he's useful in the way of useful idiots everywhere, responding to him is like shooting fish in a barrel. Chin up Pravit, nobody else here has any regard for him either, he's just another bitter American in exile from his trailer park with too much time on his hands.

Reading Another expensive

Reading Another expensive royal visit, I note PPT had apparently not yet seen Shinawatra family to donate land to King

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra said she will donate seven rai of land worth 20 million baht opposite Thung Makham Yong in Ayutthaya province on behalf of the Shinawatra family to His Majesty the King when he visits the area on Friday.

The policy is to sacrifice more and more of the people of Thailand and their productive land in favor of the unbridled urban sprawl of Bangkok and in favor of its endless effort to keep itself immune from the course of nature compounded by the results of its own greed and foolishness. Bangkok used to float. Now it sinks, ergo, the rest of Thailand must be submerged even further to keep it ... the 'important parts' anyway ... dry. Says who?

Why are not these abusive policies listed, debated, and opposed? Because to do so has been made a sin and a crime against their majesties, so the Amaat/MSM ... one and the same ... would have everyone believe.

Someone needs to turn on the lights, to point out the women are women, men are men, and policies are policies. Policies are not to be identified with men and women. or corrupt policies will be identified with popular men and women ... better, "divine" men and women ... to protect those polices. To make even their examination and discussion taboo. To make opposition a crime - 'unthinkable'. By gosh ... that's exactly what's happened in Thailand.

The hand-writing is on the wall. Save the country. Eliminate lese majeste, repeal 112 now, before it is too late.