The best way to overcome the media’s hurdles is not to add fuel to the fire but to improve a dialogue process, increase avenues for information-sharing, widen access to information and have patience as both sides are trying to do their jobs under a restrictive environment.


     June 29, 2015 1:00 am

    The most damaging development in the past year has been the worsening relations between the current power wielders and Thai media.

    The quarrels illustrate the complete lack of understanding of the role of media both in times of peace and transition. Such an on-and-off media crisis will continue to seriously undermine ongoing reform efforts if the trend continues unabated.

    The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) should have learnt from past experience, after it seized power last May, that arm-twisting tactics imposed upon the media will not work. The media community has become too familiar with all kinds of intimidation employed by the current and previous governments. Its members all know that the power wielders come and go. After the end of absolute monarchy in 1932, Thai cabinets have lasted an average of one year and four months (just 496 days).

    The Thai authorities often pick on the media as primary targets whenever dissenting views are published or broadcast. That is understandable – picking on other elements might have unintended consequences. As for the media, it will continue to do its job, imperfect as that might be, because in coming days, those in power might just go away.

    Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha should take a rest from engagement with the media. He has been working too hard trying to impress the media with his achievements and future plans. It is a pity that very few journalists take him seriously. It would much better if he focused on political reform and national reconciliation instead of trying to outwit the beat reporters he encounters every day. Let the outcome speak for itself.

    Of late, his anti-corruption campaign has received good reviews so he can concentrate on important social ills.

    Therefore, to assist him, it is time the NCPO sought help from media professionals to manage the news on a day-to-day basis and to help with a communications strategy with the public. Before there is a well-informed public, the NCPO must be able to inform the media first and foremost.

    Truth be told, Prayut has to talk to journalists frequently because his media-team is not delivering the key messages the prime minister wants to convey. No good media team would allow its boss to be caught in embarrassing moments every time he meets the media, let alone losing his temper on and off. It shows a complete lack of training and preparation.

    It has to be said once again that all the military’s spokespeople, as efficient and credible as they may be, are not suitable for the current media environment dealing with a civilian population. No doubt, the current “information operation” strategy is not being effective and instead yields negative outcomes, further tarnishing the government’s image, which is at its lowest ebb. The IO strategy has already clouded some good work the Prayut government has done.

    The latest report of the US State Department on Thailand’s human rights condition, released last week, also detailed harsh measures used by the NPCO to restrict freedom of expression. Finding fault with the messengers will not produce good results, only increase antagonism.

    Generally speaking, personnel in uniform follow orders most efficiently and promptly. In times of war or emergencies, such conduct is pivotal for winning strategies. However, we are not at war — the media is not the NPCO’s enemy. Thailand is in a transitional period, which needs full support from |all walks of life. So, the media |strategy used by the NCPO to |force the media to toe the line is completely useless — a disaster in the making.

    The planned meeting with 200 local and foreign journalists this week is a good example that the power wielders do not have a clue about the Thai media ethos and work ethic. The NCPO must not meddle with the media, telling it what to ask and to write. Media representatives must have the liberty to digest and report on the information given out officially, informally or through contacts.

    Their responsibility is to ensure accuracy and fairness. If any journalist is not writing professionally, there are legal means to counter such malpractice.

    The National Press Council of Thailand adopts peer pressure and good practice to ensure better journalism. In more than a few cases, it has good results.

    The notion that journalists should not ask questions that upset the prime minster is the most absurd. True, in press conferences, a variety of questions, good and bad, are asked – but as prime minister, he must learn how to respond in mature and respectful ways. It goes without saying that there are no such things as bad questions – just bad answers.

    Since 2001, Thai media staff have suffered a myriad of abuses — from governments and among their own proprietors. No Thai government has expressed appreciation of the role played by the media because most Thai journalists, except those who practice “yellow journalism”, are fiercely independent. That is why they are the most difficult people to deal with in a time like this.

    The best way to overcome the media’s hurdles is not to add fuel to the fire but to improve a dialogue process, increase avenues for information-sharing, widen access to information and have patience as both sides are trying to do their jobs under a restrictive environment.