Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Deconstructing Thepchai Yong: The Nation's Hypocrisy Never Ends

New breed of journalist remains a distant dream

Thepchai Yong

The Nation

Like any other business, journalism also has its clamour for a "new breed" that is needed to keep up with the changing world. But there are reservations - even among media professionals themselves - whether there is really space for these people.

Published on August 28, 2007

Panellists at a round-table discussion organised by the Thai Broadcast Journalists' Association over the weekend were obviously fed up with the current batch of journalists, who seem to be spending more time on routine news and chasing sources for sound bites than doing serious analysis or investigative reporting. Not content with only being critical, the participants also helped define the criteria for the journalists of their dreams.

The Nation and the Yoon brothers are great examples of their criticism.

They concurred that the new breed of journalist needs to be well informed and knowledgeable - not only in the field he covers but also about current affairs and issues of importance. And instead of covering the daily routine, he has to go out of the way to hold politicians and bureaucrats at all levels accountable through in-depth and critical news reporting. And of course, to qualify as part of this new generation of journalists, he also needs to have the courage to stand up to pressure, even from bosses, to defend journalistic principles.

It is amazing that Thepchai hears and acknowledges the problems and the solutions, yet is guilty of everything that they criticize and does nothing to change to the problems.

In short, what the panellists are looking for are journalists who are smart and who dare to stick their necks out to challenge authority and uphold press freedom at all costs. In the eyes of the panellists, the current generation of journalists is either too ignorant or too cowed to claim to be the voice of the people. Understanding of the issues they are covering is too shallow and they are ready to compromise their principles at the slightest sign of political pressure.

The pannelists are right on the money. Listen up Thepchai, they were talking to you.

The critical assessment of the current state of the media did not come from ordinary academics or sore politicians who are the constant subject of media ridicule. Those on the panel included some of Thailand's best-known social thinkers and media professionals. Among them were social critics Sulak Sivaraksa and Nithi Iewsriwongse, well-known TV anchor Kitti Singhapat, media commentator Jirmsak Pinthong and human rights campaigner Chuchai Suppawongse.

The usual suspects. Damn, I hate to say it, but I actually agree with the usual suspects.

Of course, for many practising media professionals, the assumption certainly sounds too "across the board" and judgmental. Though the professionalism of the Thai media in general still leaves much to be desired, there are certainly enough professional media practitioners out there to lend credibility to the media as a check-and-balance mechanism.

Thepchai is a hypocritical idiot. Instead of getting defensive Thepchai, listen to their advice

The panellists' idea about journalism may be too idealistic. But certainly not idealistic in the sense that the new generation of journalists (or even those in the business right now) have to be professional and public-minded. After all, these are basic qualifications that have essentially elevated the Thai media to the status it enjoys today.

Let us be frank Thepchai: The Thai media is in the shitter, and you and your equally incompetent brother are part of the problem.

But what is probably idealistic is the expectation that such qualified journalists will be eagerly embraced by editors and media entrepreneurs. Strange but true, the media - broadcast media in particular - does not always look for the best and the brightest to fill the ranks of reporters and editors. A few quality newspapers that value ethics and professionalism could be an exception.

I actually had a friend of mine who applied for a job working as a reporter for Nation Multimedia Group. She turned the job down because the pay was crap. However, she was hired. Even though this woman was extremely intelligent, she knew next to nothing about news and politics. But hey, The Nation will hire anybody wearing a yellow shirt and is willing to krubtao (kow tow) to the Yoon brothers.

While the print media enjoys relatively more press freedom, broadcast media is subject to much tighter control. The state monopoly of the airwaves ensures that when it comes to news reporting, being politically correct takes precedence over the need to tell the truth.

I think this is hilarious. The Nation has a news channel of its own. Suthichai and Thepchai have their own shows on the military controlled public air TV channels as well. Suthichai and Thepchai are by far the worst interviewers I have ever witnessed in any language. Do a search and watch some of them on YouTube.

It's no wonder then, that all broadcasters prefer to protect their business interests rather than antagonise the powers-that-be. They have survived through all kinds of political environment by learning to practice strict self-censorship. During the five years of the Thaksin administration, broadcasters were more than ready to internalise political demands.

The Nation cowered to Thaksin and then it cowered to the generals in exchange so that Suthichai and Thepchai could keep their influence and keep their mugs on TV.

If business survival is the first order of the day, editors and proprietors of TV and radio stations see no reason why they should hire journalists who have the potential to create trouble. There seems to be an unwritten rule that broadcast journalists are hired more for their willingness to be politically compliant than their professionalism.

Freudian slip?

With very few exceptions, broadcast journalists restrict their daily news coverage to personalities and events.

The Nation is guilty of this.

Investigative reporting and in-depth analysis is rare.

The Nation is guilty. Rare? Non-existent.

The panellists definitely should not be faulted for their idealistic expectations. After all, they are only reflecting how society in general sees the media. A new breed of journalist can rise only when there is a new breed of news editor. And there can only be a new generation of editors when there is a new generation of media entrepreneurs - or when current entrepreneurs care to transform their attitudes and priorities.

Thepchai and Suthichai better start transforming their attitudes and priorities then.

And all these things can only happen if and when the whole broadcast industry is reformed to pave the way for a more diversified and freer broadcast media. Until then, media critics can continue to dream about their ideal journalist.

The Nation's hypocrisy never ceases to amaze me. The Nation's editors and columnists always have to blame another entity for the abysmal state of the Thai media, yet they do nothing, absolutely nothing to transform their own operations.

If you are in Thailand, even if you don't speak Thai, take some time to watch The Nation channel. Look at its production values. Look at the picture, listen to the sound, and watch the video loops. These are a people who don't care about what they do. Now, go and look at TiTV and see the difference.

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