The Nation on the defensive

EDITORIAL: Thaksin must drop media "conspiracy" - The Nation, December 8, 2003

Note this unusual and highly defensive editorial from The Nation. This is a change of tone as The Nation typically has been on the attack editorially when dealing with the government. This probably indicates the increased pressure The Nation is under to censor itself:

...as The Nation has told members of Thaksin’s inner circle on several occasions, reporters at this newspaper select, write and file their stories without prodding in one direction or the other from management. Our newsroom is a liberal and open environment in which to work, and reporters are free to draw their own conclusions from the different types of people they meet in pursuit of stories. Editors merely help them to articulate their ideas.

Members of the Cabinet and the TRT are always told to give us a call whenever they think we have reported something unfairly or inaccurately. The press cannot help but make mistakes at times. We do our very best to ensure accuracy, but we cannot censor stories or comments from individual members of Thai society as long as they are within legal boundaries. We can, however, guarantee that we do our utmost to be fair at all times, and will publish corrections of any mistakes we are proved to have made. Strangely, though, few members of the government choose to participate in the open relationship we encourage. Instead, they monitor us on their own, accumulating what they believe to be a damning number of biased reports against the government. Their emotions build up and their self-serving arguments about intentionally biased reporting become real in their minds...


[2015 note: Like many Thai newspaper articles from the early days of the Thai internet, this article is no longer online. Below is the complete text of the original article.]

EDITORIAL: Thaksin must drop media "conspiracy"

Published on Dec 8, 2003

The PM and his cronies have convinced many that the press is the enemy. They're wrong and it needs to stop.

It is no secret that Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra looks at the media with hostile eyes. He and his advisers think that the press is either "with them or against them". They believe that the editorial direction of a newspaper or television station is set by "someone higher up" -- as if there were an ideological battle going on through all facets of large, complex media organisations, particularly against the government. They fail to understand -- or even to try to understand -- that editorials and opinion pieces represent widely varying views held by many different people, not just editors, but also reporters and people from all walks of life, who have a say in how this country should evolve.

What a shame. This is misperception on a grand scale. Cabinet members and MPs from the Thai Rak Thai Party have convinced themselves, as they try to please the prime minister, that several media organisations harbour ill-will towards the government.

All sorts of tricks and tools have been used to pressure the media not to report negatively on the government and to ridicule and shut out people who have criticised its policies -- all in the name of national interest. But we're left to wonder if all this is really just about a thin-skinned man; is it possible that Thaksin the individual simply doesn't like his ideas to be challenged or to himself made the subject of criticism? If so, the government and its cronies have exploited this personal failing of the premier to carry out a national media strategy that undermines democracy at its roots.

To set the record straight, as The Nation has told members of Thaksin's inner circle on several occasions, reporters at this newspaper select, write and file their stories without prodding in one direction or the other from management. Our newsroom is a liberal and open environment in which to work, and reporters are free to draw their own conclusions from the different types of people they meet in pursuit of stories. Editors merely help them to articulate their ideas.

Members of the Cabinet and the TRT are always told to give us a call whenever they think we have reported something unfairly or inaccurately. The press cannot help but make mistakes at times. We do our very best to ensure accuracy, but we cannot censor stories or comments from individual members of Thai society as long as they are within legal boundaries. We can, however, guarantee that we do our utmost to be fair at all times, and will publish corrections of any mistakes we are proved to have made. Strangely, though, few members of the government choose to participate in the open relationship we encourage. Instead, they monitor us on their own, accumulating what they believe to be a damning number of biased reports against the government. Their emotions build up and their self-serving arguments about intentionally biased reporting become real in their minds. These arguments, however, are really part of an illusion that is overwhelming the foundations of liberal and democratic tolerance.

If there is any fault in the Thai media it is that we have a modern tradition of being highly critical. This has evolved from a history of disappointments with previous governments that failed to deliver on promises, and worse still, existed only to exploit the people and state power. Thus, the rise of the Thai Rak Thai Party in 2001 was seen as anything but a repudiation of money politics and Thaksin's assets trial so early on in his premiership epitomised the kind of murky goings-on that so many Thais wish to be done with. Then came the populist policies of the government, which often times were not properly thought out or explained. Instead, they were dumped like goods from a factory upon consumers who were expected to buy them without much thought.

Let's be clear that many previous leaders also bristled at media criticism. However, they also recognised that the press is one of the pillars of modern Thai society. Former prime minister Anand Panyarachun did not go a week in power without scolding the inaccuracy of this or that press report. Yet he recognised the media's vital function as a reflection of the will of the people, which a democratically elected government is bound to listen to. At another level, the press provides a foundation for pluralism in Thai society -- the kind that provides lasting stability and creativity -- something a government cannot emulate no matter how popular it is. On the eve of his birthday last Thursday, His Majesty the King said Thaksin must keep his feet on the ground and listen to public and media criticism. "When newspapers say the government did it the wrong way, or too violently, they must be heeded. Read those newspapers. Let them write. When they criticise, listen to them. Thank them when they say the right thing, or tell them to take it easy when they give the wrong criticism."

At the end of the day, the press largely reflects the views of the people -- from all walks of life -- and not just those of the reporters, commentators, presenters and pundits who voice them. The prime minister and his advisers must abandon their paranoid theory about the existence of a media conspiracy, which they have largely succeeded in selling to Cabinet members and TRT MPs. A government on friendly terms with the media is one that is open to the voices of the people.

The Nation
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