MEDIA IN THAILAND: CENSORSHIP, THAKSIN, TELEVISION, AND NEWSPAPERS FULL OF GORY PICTURES

MEDIA IN THAILAND

Thailand is known for its lively, free-wheeling press and media. This is a far cry from the 1970s, when the media was regarded as little more than a mouthpiece of the military government. Still even today the government is able to exert strong control over the media if it wants to and stifles free expression using lese majeste laws, lawsuits and other means.

The media plays an important role as the principal source of domestic and foreign news and as a source of public entertainment. All major daily newspapers are privately owned, but many radio and television stations are controlled by the government and operated as commercial enterprises. Until the 1990s there were no private television and radio stations but now there many. Particularly influential are satellite television broadcasters. Newspapers are generally regarded as more credible than the government-controlled broadcast media.

The Asian economic crisis in 1997-98 forced many magazines and newspapers to close down and journalist and other workers to lose their jobs. After the crisis, some newspapers began dealing with more serious issues and reporting on mismanagement corruption but others deferred from being too critical of the government and focused on surviving in a world with more competition and less advertising revenues.

State entities, including the police and military, and government allies own almost all television and radio stations and play an important role in determining programming content. The government’s Public Relations Department requires that all Thai radio stations carry 30 minutes of official news prepared by Radio Thailand, the government’s national radio network, twice daily. Radio Thailand has seven networks that specialize in such areas as news and information, public affairs, social issues, education, and foreign-language broadcasts. [Source: Library of Congress]

The mass media in Thailand is under the broad supervision of the Public Relations Department in the Office of the Prime Minister. This department serves as the principal source of news and information about the government and its policies. It issues daily news bulletins on domestic and foreign affairs for use by the print and electronic media. News bulletins are also issued by other government agencies, including the Thai News Agency, established in 1976 under the Mass Communications Organization of Thailand, a state enterprise under the Office of the Prime Minister. The Thai News Agency concentrates mostly on domestic affairs; foreign news is gathered from international wire services, which maintained offices or representatives in Bangkok. [Library of Congress, 1987]

Local media programs in Thailand are produced in local areas by residents, and are meant for residents themselves. They emerged for groupings of people in certain undertakings, primarily agriculture, largely with the use of local dialects and promoting local culture, such as the provincial radio programs for each province in the Northeast, which usually air performances of the well-known mo lam songs and present news and other information in Isan dialects. The local media not only help preserve local art and culture for the new generations, but also respond to specific problems, as residents have access to information and are able to unite to solve problems. Several types of local media are produced in Thailand: newspapers, magazines, radio broadcasts, television, internet websites. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

Censorship in Thailand

In June 2007,Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “Thailand already has one of the world's most conservative censorship systems, with at least 27 laws which are either anti-press or limit freedom of expression. For instance, the antiquated legislation known as the Film Act of 1930 is still being used every day by the Thai Censorship Board to determine what Thai people will see in the globalised world of the 21st century. Similarly, the 1941 Printing Act also has done great damage to press freedom and to restrict publishers and journalists. There are rogue elements in the Thai bureaucracy and judiciary that still want to control the way the Thai people think and express themselves. They should realise that these archaic laws have greatly undermined the creativity and aspirations of Thais - and the consequences might be unfathomable. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, June 18, 2007]

Thailand has banned the film The King and I and other material on the royal family that has been deemed by the government to be disrespectful of the Thai monarchy. Newsweek was condemned after it featured a story in the Thai economy that ran the quote: “Thailand has two comparative advantages—sex and golf courses.”

Most observers agree that the Thai press enjoys considerable freedom. Nevertheless, editorial writers and reporters continue to exercise self-censorship, mindful that there are unwritten but real government constraints, especially on coverage relating to the monarchy, government affairs, internal security matters, and Thailand's international image. The existing statutes give broad powers to the director general of the Thailand National Police Department, including the authority to revoke or suspend the license of an offending publication. The severity of penalties varies, depending on the political climate and the sensitivity of an issue. [Library of Congress]

Freedom of the Press in Thailand

Thailand is regarded as a “haven of free expression” and is known for having one of the freest media in Asia. In 1997 it became the first country in Southeast Asia to institute a freedom of information law in 1997. Even so, the Freedom House Press Freedom Survey of countries lists Thailand as having a “partly free” and “not free” press. In 2005, it was ranked 95th out of 194 countries. In 2011 it ranked 140 and was demoted from “partly free” and “not free” status. Thailand’s relatively low ranking is partly due its lese majeste laws and aggressive use of defamation lawsuits. “A country where journalists cannot report freely without fear of interference, by the government or other actors, has little hope of achieving or maintaining true democracy,” wrote David J. Kramer, executive director of Freedom House in 2011. “While we have unfortunately come to expect restrictive and dangerous environments for journalists in nondemocratic regimes like those in the Middle East and the former Soviet Union, we are particularly troubled this year by declines in young or faltering democracies like Mexico, Hungary, and Thailand.”

The Thai Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, which may not be curbed except by law "for the purpose of maintaining the security of state or safeguarding the liberties, dignity or reputation of other persons or maintaining public order or good morals or preventing deterioration of the mind or health of the public."

Under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who came to power in 2001, the media was pushed to support the government in return for economic rewards. Those that went against Thaksin did so at their own peril. They were targeted for intimidation, harassment, closure and censorship. After the Thaksin government was ousted in 2006, the military regime in power issued an order that demanded that the media abstain from reporting on Thaksin. Penalties included closure of the media outlet.

Since the early 2000s the Thai media has generally acted with restraint because of fear of lawsuits and, from time to time, government censorship. In the aftermath of the September 2006 coup, the military quickly clamped down on the media and banned political gatherings of more than five people, but it subsequently lifted its restrictions. Since then the Thai press has routinely published critical commentary on the military and covered Thaksin Chinnawat’s travel movements in exile. However, the government ordered the Thai broadcast media to cease reporting statements by Thaksin and to stop airing views defending the former prime minister. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

In June 2010, at a time of political unrest in Thailand, Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation, “One must not forget Thailand used to be among the world’s top thirty countries (Freedom House, 2000) with long standing press freedom. However, since former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra came to power in 2001, the index of press freedom has suffered a free fall, making Thailand only a partly free country. With the continued political crisis, the Thai media has yet to recuperate and gain free press creditability. The shutdown of satellite and cable TVs and community radios along with heavy internet censorship in 2010 further tarnished the country’s openness, freedom of expression and rights to information. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, June 20, 2010]

Three journalists were killed in Thailand in the first six months of 2012.

Lese Majest Laws, See Royal Family

Thaksin-Owned Media

In 1987, Thaksin left the police force to market a movie, Bann Sai Thong , and started a small computer dealership—the Shinawatra Company— with his wife that evolved into the Shin Corporation, a multi-billion-dollar, family-owned conglomerate. The company initially sold computer software and then expanded into pager services, cable television and data communications networks. Thaksin made a fortune after obtaining valuable satellite, cable television and mobile phone licenses. He launched Thailand’s first communication satellite and claimed iTV, Thailand’s only non-state television station, in a takeover he engineered in 2000. Thaksin’s company went public on the Bangkok Stock Exchange in 1990, the same year Thaksin made a successful bid for a 20-year deal with the Telephone Organization of Thailand.

iTV was founded in 1995. It was initially given a 30 year license on condition that it broadcasted largely news. It became part of the Shin Corporation—the Thaksin family conglomerate—when Shin bought a major stake in iTV. In 2004 iTV was allowed to pay lower annual fees and allowed to cut back on news and show more entertainment..

In 2005 Thaksin was ranked as one of Thailand’s four billionaires. At that time of Thaksin’s family assets were wrapped up the Shin Corporation, at that time Thailand’s largest telecommunications company, which embraced Thailand’s leading mobile phone operator, a satellite company, a low-cost airline and the television station iTV.

Thaksin made most of his money from mobile phones. As of 2006, Shin Corp, owned 43 percent of Advanced Info, Thailand largest cell phone company, two satellite companies (Shin Satellite and Ipstar), 40 percent of Loxinfoo, an Intent provider, and Yellow Pages services, and 53 percent of the broadcaster iTV. He also had stakes in other cell phone companies in Southeast Asia.

Thaksin-Owned Media When Thaksin was Prime Minister

When Thaksin was prime minister he was criticized for pressuring the government to give iTV a favorable decision in regard to fees payed to the state. At the time iTV was owned by Thaksin’s Shin corporation and was the only privately-run television station in Thailand. The station was supposed to pay an annual fee of 250 million baht. iTV wanted the fee reduced to 150 million baht a year.

iTV was meant to be free from state interference but was widely used by Thaksin as his public relations vehicle. The station was effective in reaching voters and getting the Thaksin message across before the elections won by Thaksin.

The Shin Corporation, then Thailand’s largest telecommunications company, was sold to a Singapore’s Temasek Holding for $1.9 billion in January 2006 without paying any taxes. Many Thais were outraged, with the move ultimately leading to Thaksin’s ouster. Temsasek obtained 49.6 percent of Shin by purchasing 1.49 billion shares for $1.25 each. Thaksin said, “The sale is mainly because my children want me to dedicate my efforts towards work without any concern on conflict of interest.”

In May 2006, the privileges given iTV in 2004 were rescinded. The station was required to return to it monthly news format and pay fines, taxes and interest of over $2 billion. Teetering near bankruptcy and indirectly owned by Temasek Holdings, the Singaporean government’s investment arm, the station was transformed into the Thai Public Broadcasting Service. There was some talk of turning it into an Asian BBC.

Thaksin Intimidation of the Media While he was Prime Minister

Thaksin didn’t like being criticized. He cracked down on media sources that were critical of him and his policies. He ordered investigations of critical journalists and media organizations and blamed the media for inaccurately reporting his war on drugs and exacerbating the problems with Muslim insurgents in the south. Thaksin was particularly sensitive about criticism of his handling of the unrest in the Muslim south. After a critical report on 131 Muslim deaths at the hand of security forces in southern Thailand, Thaksin said, “As a Thai-blooded person, I request that the press to stop reporting the news” The newspaper The Nation was known for its attacks on Thaksin that included a front-page cartoon that portrayed Thaksin with a Hitler-like mustache.

Thaksin used the government’s Anti-Money Laundering Office to intimidate reporters. Four foreign journalist were placed on a “watch list” of people seen as threat to the national security. Two Western journalists with the Far Eastern Economic Review were threatened with expulsion from the country and branded as threats to national security for writing an article about the rift Thaksin and King Bhumibol. The Review and the Economist—which also ran some critical articles—were banned . The Review journalist were allowed to remain in the country after their magazine formally apologized to the Thai government in regards to the article.

Thaksin threatened journalists with law suits with high damage payments. He was accused of withholding advertising money from companies he owned to media entities that were critical of him. The owner of the Siamrath Weekly admitted recalling and destroying 30,000 copies of one edition because it was too critical of Thaksin and his handling for the bird flu outbreak.

In March 2002, the Nation Multimedia Group said that it would stop covering Thai politics on its 24-hour cable network after its radio news program was shut down by the government. A popular political discussion show led by a political opponents that often criticized Thaksin yanked off of the state-run network.

In a press conference August 2005, Thaksin rated journalists on their questions by using a buzzer and signs he brought with him from a Japanese game show. Favorable questions received a positive sign with a red circle. Questions he didn’t like received a sign with cross and buzzer. The journalists felt disrespected, Thaksin said he was only having some fun.

In June 2006, Thaksin appeared in a reality show, Backstage Show, starring himself touring around some of the poorest parts of Thailand. Thaksin called the show an opportunity for the leader to meet the locals. In the show he was shown giving locals cash and promises of loans and efforts to tackle their problems. On the show Thaksin once slept in a tent. He was accompanied by 49 cameras and whisked around in a military helicopter. His critics called the show a cheap stunt to keep him in the news at the taxpayer’s expense.

In May 2005, Kavi Chongkittavorn wrote in The Nation: “Thai Journalists Association (TJA) issued a strong statement criticising government hypocrisy, particularly the pledge made by Thaksin at the beginning of his second term that he would respect press freedom and democracy. The TJA is succinct in assessing that the government has failed to keep its promises and has instead been using every trick in the book to meddle with news reporting. The government has even threatened to pull out advertising and buy up shares in media companies. And then there are the expensive defamation lawsuits. The National Press Council of Thailand has also condemned the defamation laws that make criminals of journalists. These local and foreign evaluations of the Thai media have more or less been based on similar procedures. These groups have all examined the level of individual freedom and the legal, political and economic environments to determine the level of press freedom. And all have agreed that the Thaksin government’s interference in the media continues unabated and has already become a norm. [Source: Kavi Chongkittavorn, The Nation, May 9, 2005]

Television in Thailand

Television is regarded as the most influential medium in Thailand. Apart from the free-to-air television channels, or free TV, Thai people also receive satellite television and subscription television, which are composed largely of programs from foreign countries, providing international news, information, and entertainment. All aspects of television broadcasting, such as operating hours, content, programs, advertising, and technical requirements, were set by the Broadcasting Directing Board, which was under the Office of the Prime Minister and headed by a deputy prime minister. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

State entities, including the police and military, and government allies own almost all television and radio stations and play an important role in determining programming content. Thailand has five television channels, two of which are run by the central government, two by the army, and one by a private enterprise. Thailand has about 15 million television sets Thailand and 111 television broadcast stations. [Source: Library of Congress, 2007]

Broadcast media: 6 terrestrial TV stations in Bangkok broadcast nationally via relay stations - 2 of the networks are owned by the military, the other 4 are government-owned or controlled, leased to private enterprise, and all are required to broadcast government-produced news programs twice a day; multi-channel satellite and cable TV subscription services are available; radio frequencies have been allotted for more than 500 government and commercial radio stations; many small community radio stations operate with low-power transmitters (2008). [Source: CIA World Factbook]

By 1980 television had become the dominant news medium among urban Thais. Household television set ownership (about 3.3 million sets in 1984) was as widespread as radio in all urban areas of the country. As of 1984, television exceeded radio ownership in the Center and South and was about even with radio ownership in the North and the Northeast. Nine out of ten Bangkok households had at least one television set. Ownership of color television was also widespread among urban Thai in the South (58 percent), Bangkok (54 percent), the Northeast (49 percent), the central plain (47 percent), and the North (43 percent). [Library of Congress, 1987]

Television in Thailand comes in four systems: free-to-air television, subscription television, satellite television, and regional television, utilizing VHF and UHF frequencies. As of 2000, UBC was Thailand’s only cable operator. It had 300,000 subscribers. Bilingual English broadcasts are available.

State-Run Television Channels in Thailand

As official channels of communication, state-run television stations are expected to avoid controversial viewpoints and independent political comment in their programming. The Army Signal Corps and the Mass Communications Organization of Thailand directly operated television channels 5 and 9. Other channels are operated under license by private groups, the Bangkok Entertainment Company, which runs Channel 3, and the Bangkok Television Company, in charge of Channel 7. Channel 11 is operated by the government primarily as an educational station. [Library of Congress]

Free-to-air television channels (station, frequency, channel): A) Bangkok Entertainment Company (BEC), Channel 3 VHF Band 1: Channel 3 UHF Band 4: Channel 32 UHF Band 5: Channel 60. B) Royal Thai Army Radio and Television VHF Band 1: Channel 5 : C) Bangkok Broadcasting and Television (BBTV) VHF Band 3: Channel 7; D) Modernine TV VHF Band 3: Channel 9; E) National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT) VHF Band 3: Channel 11; F) Thai Public Broadcasting Service (TPBS) UHF Band 4: Channel 29. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

The National Broadcasting Services of Thailand, also known as NBT TV or Television of Thailand, is operated by a government agency, the Government Public Relations Department, with a national network comprising 12 television stations: two in the North (in Lampang and Phitsanulok), two in the Northeast (Khon Kaen and Ubon Ratchathani), one in the West (Kanchanaburi), one in the East (Chanthaburi), five in the South (Surat Thani, Phuket, Nakhon Si Thammarat, Songkhla and Yala), and the mother station in Bangkok. [Ibid]

In 2000, the National Multimedia Group launched the Nation Channel, Southeast Asia’s first 24-hour, local-language news channel.

iTV

In the early 2000s, all but one of Thailand’s television stations were state owned. That one station, iTV, was owned by Thaksin’s Shin corporation. iTV was created after the pro-democracy uprising in 1992. It was once regarded as Thailand’s most independent news station. Under Thaksin it became a mouth piece for the government. In some cases. journalists who refused to tow the party line were fired.

ITV was set up in 1995 as part of a broad movement to report news impartially. All television stations until then were owned by the military or the government and had been restricted from broadcasting the 1992 protests that overthrew Thailand's then-military-backed government. iTV was initially given a 30 year license on condition that it broadcasted largely news. It became part of the Shin Corporation—the Thaksin family conglomerate—when Shin bought a major stake in iTV in 2000, when the broadcaster was in deep financial trouble.

After Shin Corp. took over iTV in 2001, the network drew criticism for lacking impartiality, particularly in its coverage of Thaksin's administration. In 2004 iTV was allowed to pay lower annual fees and allowed to cut back on news and show more entertainment..

After a lengthy dispute over unpaid concession fees to the Prime Minister's Office, iTV was taken over in 2007 by the government's Public Relations Department and its name was changed to Thai Independent Television (TITV). Following a previously unannounced order of Thailand's Public Relations Department delivered the same day, the station closed down operations at midnight on 14 January 2008. In accordance with the Public Broadcasting Service Act, the channel's frequency was assigned to the Thai Public Broadcasting Service, or Thai PBS. [Source: Wikipedia]

Television Programs in Thailand

Popular television programs in Thailand, by program type: 1) Entertainment Emphasizing fun and enjoyment, such as soap operas, movies, variety programs, talk shows, game shows, and music programs (57.7 percent); 2) News Presenting current events of interest to the public (40.0 percent); 3) Documentary/ general knowledge, emphasizing knowledge and the sharing of experience on general topics, such as cookery program, art and culture, and various features (2.0 percent); 4) Opinion / analysis Providing opinions and analytical views, such as economic analysis (0.2 percent); 5) Educational and business program / advertisement This type of program is meant for direct teaching and learning, based on curricula, such as science and technology and language courses (0.1 percent). [Source: National Statistical Office, Ministry of Information and Communication Technology]

Dumb game shows and soap operas are a fixture of Thai television. Lachapor Khun Ru Chai ("How Well do You Know This Person”) is a televison shown on the E! channel in which contestants are shown three sad or tragic episodes from a celebrity's life and then have to guess which one the celebrity regrets most.

“Ghost Game” was a fictional story about a reality TV show where contestants spent time in a deserted prison and confronted ghosts and crimes linked with place. Cambodians were angered by similarities of the prison with torture centers used by the Khmer Rouge. The producers of the show apologized and said the show was intended purely as fictional entertainment.

Nong Teng—Nong Chernyim and Teng Terdtueng—are a popular comedy duo that regularly appear on television with one playing a Chinese god and the other, a tall guy, who made predictable self-mocking jokes. The duo played a couple of wannabe thugs in the film Nong Teng Nakleng Phukao Ting Nong (“Thugs of the Golden Mount”). Sruang Sapsamruay, known to Thais as Lor Tok, was a legendary comedian.

Samak Sundaravej, Prime Minister of Thailand in 2008, hosted two cooking shows,Tasting, Complaining, which included bits on traditional Thai cooking and rants on subjects of Samak’s choice,” and “All Set at 6 am.” Samak is an avid cook with a hefty frame that shows that at least one person liked his food. Tasting, Complaining had run for seven years before it was pulled off the air after the coup in 2006.

Both women and men like to watch soap operas. American shows shown on Thai have included "I Love Lucy" and "Leave it to Beaver."

Radio in Thailand

Radio broadcasting plays an important role in the lives of the Thai people, with its nationwide coverage, making it the medium with the widest reach to a mass audience. Also, radio transmitters and receivers cost relatively little. The broadcasts can be received with no great effort, even by farmers working in their rice fields, many of whom have little education. All aspects of radio broadcasting, such as operating hours, content, programs, advertising, and technical requirements, were set by the Broadcasting Directing Board, which was under the Office of the Prime Minister and headed by a deputy prime minister.[Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department,=]

State entities, including the police and military, and government allies own almost all television and radio stations and play an important role in determining programming content. The government’s Public Relations Department requires that all Thai radio stations carry 30 minutes of official news prepared by Radio Thailand, the government’s national radio network, twice daily. Radio Thailand has seven networks that specialize in such areas as news and information, public affairs, social issues, education, and foreign-language broadcasts. Altogether, Thailand has 204 AM radio stations, 334 FM radio stations, 6 shortwave stations. Additionally, there are between 2,000 and 3,000 community radio stations, many of which operate outside the law by using frequencies restricted to government entities. Those that register are allowed to continue broadcasting but others, including those critical of the government, have been shut down. Thailand has about 14 million radios. [Source: Library of Congress, 2007]

Popular radio programs in Thailand, by program type: 1) Entertainment (64.1 percent); 2) News (32.9 percent); 3) Documentary or general knowledge (2.5 percent); 4) Opinion / analysis / education and business / advertisement (0.5 percent). [Source: National Statistical Office, Ministry of Information and Communication Technology]

Radio frequencies in use in Thailand fall under three categories: FM, AM, and shortwave. Radio broadcasting stations in Thailand are either public radio stations owned and run by the government sector, operating in the public interest, or commercial radio (some of which are owned by the government, which has coproduction agreements with private operators). The only official radio broadcasting station is Radio Thailand, operated by the Government Public Relations Department (PRD), with the aim of keeping the public informed with updated news for the benefit of the people and the nation. =

Apart from public radio and commercial radio, the Thai people also have community radio as another option. The community radio frequencies are open to community participation in terms of ownership, production, and management. Community radio is meant to serve specific local interest groups, with members’ participation, for information and opinion exchanges, similar to the format of the popular traffic radio station “Cho So 100.” Legislation is now being formulated to exert some control on community radio, which has proliferated greatly in recent years, with the splicing of existing radio frequencies by digital technology. =

In 1987 Thailand had 275 national and local radio stations. The National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT) was the official government broadcasting station, which transmitted local and international news mandatorily broadcast on all stations. News was also broadcast daily in nine foreign languages over Radio Thailand's World Service. Radio stations were run also as commercial enterprises by such government agencies as the Mass Communications Organization of Thailand; units of the army, the navy, and the air force; the police; the ministries of communications and education; and several state universities. In 1985 there were 7.7 million radio sets in use. [Library of Congress]

Newspapers in Thailand

In Thailand there are 18 major Thai-language daily newspapers, three major English-language dailies, and four major Chinese-language dailies. Major daily newspapers include Khao Sod (Fresh News). The two main English language papers are the Bangkok Post and the Nation. They have a lot of power and influence and known for being critical and aggressive in their reporting of sitting governments.

The Bangkok Post and The Nation along with Hong Kong's South China Morning Post, Singapore's The Strait Times and the Japan Times have been described as the best English-language newspapers in Asia. The Nation was founded in 1971 and was active supporting democracy and played in role in rallying protesters in the bloody uprisings in 1972 and 1992. It drew readers with its independent voice and became the flagship of a publishing empire that now includes real estate developments and a variety of publishing and media projects.

According to the Thai government: Newspapers are print media of considerable importance in Thai people’s daily life, with a great influence over consumers, especially in cosmopolitan Bangkok. Newspapers also cost less than other print media, which suggests that they will continue to be popular with the public. About 25 percent of the Thai people read newspapers regularly every day. Thai people’s main topic of interest is politics, followed by entertainment, crime, new knowledge, social issues, sports, economy, and trade and investment. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

Newspapers in Thailand come in several types, according to their target groups: 1) General newspapers (daily, tri-daily, weekly), 2) Business newspapers (daily, tri-daily, weekly), 3) Sports newspapers (daily, tri-daily), 4) Entertainment newspapers (daily, tri-daily), 5) Foreign-language newspapers (English, Chinese, Japanese), 6) Local newspapers (North, Northeast, South), and 7) Newspapers on line.

Newspapers in Thailand in the 1980s

In the 1980s—and still largely true today—daily newspapers were concentrated heavily in Bangkok, where at least 65 percent of the adults read a daily paper, compared with about 10 percent in rural areas. Newspapers were generally independent, and many were financially solvent, deriving their income from sales and advertising. The government was forbidden by law to subsidize private newspapers. Foreign ownership of newspapers was also banned as a safeguard against undue foreign or subversive influence. [Library of Congress,^^^]

In the 1980s, Thai journalistic standards improved steadily, as reflected in the print media's growing emphasis on political and economic issues, as well as on major foreign news events. This could be attributed to the emergence of a more discriminating readership. On the negative side, sensationalist coverage and insufficient professional training continued to mar the reputation of the Thai press. ^^^

There were about 150 newspapers, including 30 dailies in Bangkok and 120 provincial papers in 1985. Some Bangkok dailies were considered to be national newspapers because of their countrywide distribution. Most provincial papers appeared every two, five, seven, or ten days. In Bangkok twenty-one dailies appeared in Thai, six in Chinese, and three in English. Of an estimated daily circulation of 1.6 million for all Bangkok dailies in 1985, Thai Rath (800,000 circulation) and the Daily News (400,000 circulation) together claimed about 75 percent of the total circulation. These two newspapers reportedly were popular among white-collar groups. The most successful among the remaining newspapers were Ban Muang, Matichon, Siam Rath, and Naew Na. ^^^

The English-language dailies were the Bangkok Post, The Nation, and the Bangkok World, which were popular among the well-educated and influential members of Thai society and were regarded by many as more reliable than the Thai dailies. Some of the editorial positions on the Bangkok Post and the Bangkok World were held by foreigners, mostly British; The Nation, on the other hand, was almost entirely staffed by Thai and tended to view the world from a Thai perspective. ^^^

Unlike the English-language dailies, whose circulation was increasing in the early 1980s, Chinese-language dailies were declining in readership. Their total circulation was probably around 70,000. Two leading Chinese-language dailies were Sing Sian Yit Pao and Tong Hua Yit Pao. These dailies were noted for responsible coverage of domestic and international affairs, but they refrained from taking strong stands on local political questions. ^^^

Magazines in Thailand

Magazines are print media that enjoy increasing popularity among the Thai people. Magazines have specific target groups, unlike most newspapers. The Advertising Association of Thailand has classified magazines available in the market into 15 types, as follows: political magazines, sport magazines, children’s magazines, photography and printing magazines, travel and tourism magazines, business and advertising magazines, entertaining magazines, house magazines, women’s magazines, men’s magazines, car magazines, art and culture magazines, economic magazines, health magazines, family magazines. [Source: Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department]

Although on-line magazines have become increasingly available, the Thai people remain committed to their favorite magazines in print, as the choices reflect the readers’ own projected self-image.

Thai men prefer travel, car, and house magazines, while women select women’s magazine first, followed by health, travel, and entertainment magazines. The reasons they cite are benefits from those magazines, followed by additional knowledge, upto- date contents, and entertainment.

Gory Newspaper Photos in Thailand

Thailand's newspapers are filled, on an almost daily basis, with graphic pictures of murder and accident victims. Henri Paget, wrote on the ninemsn blog: “In October 2012 27-year-old Angus Campbell, from northern NSW, died of an apparent drug overdose in Bangkok. Less than a day after his death a graphic image of his slumped body was splashed across a major tabloid news site. While publishing similar images would cause outrage in Australia, in Thailand it is an accepted practice of local media, who are usually given full access to photograph any crime scene. [Source: Henri Paget, ninemsn, November 12, 2012]

Marko Cunningham, a New Zealander who has been a volunteer ambulance worker in Bangkok for the past 12 years and runs the Bangkok Free Ambulance organisation, said Thai people were not offended by these displays. “The news on TV and newspapers has always shown full uncensored pictures of morbid scenes, it’s a very cultural thing, just like their funerals are always open coffin before cremation,” said Cunningham, author of the book 'Sleeping with the Dead'.

Alan Morison, an Australian journalist who lives in Phuket and runs the local news website Phuketwan, said, “We have published shots of the dead on occasions where I thought it was important to do so. I remember especially the body of a drowned 10-year-old boy being wheeled past me in the foyer of a hospital, straight out of an ambulance. He should never have died. There should have been lifeguards on the beach that day. We ran the photo.

“One of our photojournalists attended the scene of a crash where six Burmese died, coming down Big Buddha Hill. One of them was a young girl. Her father survived. “The series of shots of the girl being treated by paramedics, then the father being told she was dead, then cradling her in his arms, was deeply moving. “Although it was clearly an intrusion into grief, I regarded that series as a dramatic message to drivers to be safe. We ran it. “I have nothing but respect for the way people are treated here, with dignity and respect, and with openness and honesty, after death. Other societies could learn a lot.”

While the Thai news is laden with gore, the media is sensitive when it comes to a more mainstream killer – cigarettes. “It’s surprising to see rape scenes, drugs, and dead bodies on TV shows, movies, etc but the main thing that is pixelated is cigarettes,” Mr Cunningham said. “A man can point a gun and blow someone’s brains out but you can’t see him put the cigarette in his mouth! “Also different TV stations have different things they pixelate. One station might pixelate cigarettes but another pixelate guns. It’s a little confusing. There seems to be no standards.”

Mr Cunningham said he believed the culture was slowly changing to align with Western values, and he had recently seen some volunteers begin to pixelate their gory images. But he said he respected the way the Thai people accept death and do not shy away from it. “I now realise how obsessed with the ‘horror’ of death that Westerners are,” Mr Cunningham said. “For Thais it’s sad to say goodbye but they see it just as the end of one journey and the start of another. We wish them well on their next journey and hope we meet them in the next life to be friends again.”

Thai Newspapers are Disgusting

One posting on Isaanstyle blog reads: “Anyone who has been in Thailand would know about the local Thai newspapers and the shocking pictures they print each day on their front covers. There would not be a day go by where a gruesome picture isn’t the main eye catching feature. I have always been disgusted how the Thai government doesn’t have restrictions on what can actually be shown. Pictures are blurred or pixilated at times but most the time you can see all sort of morbid things. [Source: Isaanstyle blog, February 26, 2009]

“Foreign Man's Head. I was walking past our school library. Yes, school library. I could see this picture peering out through the glass for all to see who went by. This is a foreigner who had committed suicide in Bangkok. He tied a long piece of rope around his neck, the rope was way too long and it decapitated him. At first it was reported that he had been murdered but this wasn’t the case.

On a Thai News Paper picture: “Accompanying the story to the right is an 11 year old girl who was raped and murdered. The girl is a minor and her face hasn’t been blurred. These pictures are tame to last week when a twelve year old girl was raped and murdered and they had thankfully covered her private parts but had shown blood all over the inside of her legs. It was such a sad and sickening picture that didn’t need to be shown.

On another day there were three gory pictures to tempt readers. A man beaten to death, a suicide and the foreign man’s body to match his head. Man Bashed to Death. This is of a man who has been seriously beaten by something very heavy and his head was caved in, thankfully they did blur this but still very gruesome. Student Shoots Himself. This is a student who decided to shoot himself in the head.

I don’t know why Thais seem so detached to the fact that this shouldn’t be on the front page or actually any page in fact. If Thai papers have to rely on these pictures to sell their papers and not the story writing they should be out of business. The government of Thailand need to look at media laws and what is considered okay to print. This is not something that little kids can see every day on street corners, on shop tables and in their schools. I won't even start on Thai TV and what they show on this. Thai TV needs to be banned.

Image Sources:

Text Sources: Jukka O. Miettinen, Asian Traditional Theater and Dance, Theatre Academy Helsinki, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourist Authority of Thailand, Thailand Foreign Office, The Government Public Relations Department, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated May 2014

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