Why Most Thai Mainstream Mass Media are Letting Us Down on Monarchy Issue?
The just-released book in Thai language on the impact of the controversial and draconian lese majeste law on Thai society entitled ‘Darkness Under the Sun’ (ความมืดกลางแสงแดด) by writers and independent journalists Vorapoj Panphong and Thiti Meetaem reflects the Thai mainstream mass media’s failure in covering the issue of lese majeste law critically.
The book contains interviews of a number of people charged with lese majeste, both inside and outside prison, staunch opponents of the law including the leader of Nitirat group of Thammsat law lecturer Vorajaed Pakeerut who proposed amending the law to make it less draconian. A caveat and disclosure: one chapter contains a collection of my twitter messages on lese majeste law.
Vorapoj, a co-writer of the book and a member of the Committee to Amend the Lese Majeste Law lamented in the beginning of the volume that most of the mainstream mass media have let society down when it comes to the coverage of the lese majeste law.
“Thai society still needs many people, dozens more books that describe, reveal and criticize the lese majeste law,” Vorapoj noted on page 15.
There exist comprehensible reasons why the mass stream mass media have been letting the public down on the issue and why it will likely continue to do so, despite the growing cost of spoon-feeding positive-only and one-sided information about the Thai monarchy on Thai society.
The mainstream mass media, virtually all being big corporations, stand to gain more from being uncritical supporter of the continued lack of transparency and scrutiny on the monarchy institution. Some media insiders justified the lack of call for critical examination and scrutiny on the Thai monarchy by saying too much is at stake and that corporate media’s stock prices could nose dive if they ended up being branded as being ‘disloyal’ to the throne because of their critical stance towards the crown.
Some insiders also say advertisement could fall if a particular corporate media are accused of being anti-monarchist, which in Thai context such stigma can merely result from being critical of even the lese majeste law alone.
What’s more, these media can also use the accusation that some political groups are disloyal to the throne or anti-monarchist as a tool to destroy or delegitimize their enemy. One thing is certain though: many journalists and editors ‘normally’ speak or gossip about the monarchy in a critical way, something grossly different from what they would ‘abnormally’ write or say about the monarchy in public.
At a wider level, Prasong Lertrattanawisute, a former president of the Thai Journalist Association (TJA) and one of the more influential senior journalists, has always maintained that the Thai media will as much as possible not touch upon the issue of the lese majeste law or anything critical about the monarchy because they have been “taught that way” by their seniors. And the current TJA’s stance is not much different.
These people are always oblivious to the fact that as recent as the 1950s, before dictator Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat revived the aura of the monarchy and built a personality cult surrounding the current King, Thai-language newspapers used to criticize the monarchy institution. And this should be the way things are handled in any truly democratic constitutional monarchy like the United Kingdom or Japan.
Being one of the few black sheep or loose cannon in the mainstream mass media, I am clearly not trying to defend majority of the mainstream mass media. Rather, I hope the Thai public have greater media literacy and understands why most of the mainstream journalists act as shameless promoters of the belief that there exist only positive side to the monarchy and that there is no need for society to ask any critical question because such questioning is a threat to “national security”.
Never mind what kind of uncritical citizens most of the mainstream mass media played an instrumental part in producing as a result of their one-sided coverage of the monarchy institution. On the issue of the monarchy institution, most of the mainstream mass media have chosen the path of irresponsibility to the public. They couldn’t care less if the public is reduced to becoming addicted to the bombardment of non-stop flatteries that could rival those in countries like North Korea.
Decades from now, if and when Thailand becomes more democratic, the propaganda role of most of the mainstream mass media will likely be regarded with a sense of shame and disapproval by self-respecting Thai journalists.
But I could be wrong if we allow most of the mainstream mass media to continue to forced-feed society with their non-stop one-sided information about all that is great and marvelous about the monarchy without the other side of the story. That is why books like ‘Darkness Under the Sun’ ought to be appreciated and read widely.