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BURNING ISSUE COMMENT & ANALYSIS: Media war has no winners and leaves public confused

This week's takeover of a 10pm time slot on state-run NBT channel for a pro-government political talk show on the initiative of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej was at best a gullible move by the administration.

 The move, which aimed to counter People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) allegations and criticism aired on privately owned ASTV, also reminds the public just how the government and even its nemesis, the PAD, still see mass media as the propaganda tool of choice to be filled with one-sided information and exaggeration.

 This latest abuse of power by the state reminded viewers that the channel continues to serve the interest of the government of the day and not the public. But many Thai people have become such a sucker for one-sided information that those supporting the current administration and ousted premier Thaksin Shinawatra are likely to be rejoicing - never mind if the station is run on taxpayers' money that also includes those opposing to the current regime and Thaksin.

 Viewers of the new programme called "Today's Truth", co-hosted by former Thai Rak Thai executive Veera Musikapong (also a leader of the anti-junta pro-government Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship), ruling People Power Party MP Jatuporn Promphan and deputy government spokesperson Nattawut Saikua, are invited into a world where the Samak Sundaravej administration and Thaksin Shinawatra are victims of political bullying by the PAD and the now-defunct military junta and its supporters.

 If one switches channel and watches ASTV, then the world is represented very differently in an upside-down fashion. Thaksin is the arch villain with Samak running a proxy regime with the ultimate goal of whitewashing Thaksin and his cohorts of numerous alleged corruption charges and perhaps allegedly even trying to change the current constitutional monarchy political system. The truth perhaps lies somewhere in between.

 Veera's own words on the first evening of the programme give us a clue as to how he thinks the role of mass media should be - to simply give the truth and dispel confusion. "People have been pretty confused," Veera said on the first night of the programme earlier this week, in reference to the fact that the media presented different information depending on where they stand politically.

 It is simplistic for Veera to say that if "the truth" is being told, then there will be no more confusion. Such a caricature of political reality is crude and primitive because it doesn't take into consideration issues of different perspective, various people's different priorities in politics and more.

 Interestingly enough, ASTV, the mouthpiece of the PAD alliance, also treated its media as a propaganda tool to be filled up with one-sided information. The group self-celebrated and self-described its protest gathering at Makkhawan Bridge, now extending beyond 60 days, as "Makkhawan University". But how can it be a university when only one side of the debate and reality is being presented in a dogmatic fashion and no debate on the PAD stage is needed because its leaders such as Suriyasai Katasila earlier said he was afraid protesters would become "confused"?

 In such a climate, where the mass media of both camps are treated as a propaganda tool of choice, there is an urgent need to raise the public's level of media literacy.

 The public needs to learn to differentiate unabashed biased presentation of information and argument from ones that attempt to be more fair and well rounded.

 Most mass media in Thailand have become very polarised into either being pro- or anti-government. Many believe that they can win the audience or readers over by simply subjecting them to one set of propaganda repeatedly, thus reinforcing the message's air of credibility and truthfulness. That's precisely what media from both sides are doing. And many people who subscribe to one camp tend to ignore information and argument from the other side.

 The media have taken sides unashamedly while still claiming to be impartial, unbiased and trustworthy, however. Whenever someone says you can trust them, more often than not the truth is the opposite.

 Journalism schools throughout the Kingdom can thus be of service to the nation by offering courses to the public to develop media literacy - to help them excel at being able to see into the bias of the media. The catch, however, is that a good number of lecturers of journalism are also deeply partisan in current politics themselves.

 There's no argument that the government has the right to reply, but occupying a programme in state-run TV is tacky and the PAD should then have to right to also have an hour on state-run TV. And then a third-way group may soon ask for their equal share of airtime as well.

 But then it's a "state-run" station still, isn't it?


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22 Apr 2021
22 Apr 2021

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