At least divided media is better than nothing

opinion January 27, 2014 00:00

By The Nation

2,202 Viewed

TV host Sorrayuth is the latest media figure to be accused of bias, but by now all are on one side or the other

As soon as TV host Sorrayuth Suthassanachinda complained that his programme was badly misunderstood by anti-government protesters, opinions were divided along the usual line. Some said he had had it coming, while others backed his claims that his “content” was only “biased” because the other side viewed it with prejudice. Debate could go on forever, but the issue of media “neutrality” amid the Thai crisis may be fast becoming irrelevant.
In every newsroom – or almost every newsroom – there are sympathisers for both sides of the crisis. There may be those “in between” – such as those deeply agreeing with the “corruption” charges but seeing the February 2 election as the real and only solution – but they are in the minority. Little by little, the political showdown has nudged many Thais into thinking one way or the other. There is no exception in people who work in journalism.
After all, how can we define “neutrality”? Of course, compliments from the pro-government camp or scolding from the other side can’t be used as the barometer. If we are asked to name a news outlet that is “pro” or “anti” government, it will take no time at all for the answer to come out. Name one news organisation that is neither for or against Yingluck Shinawatra or Suthep Thaugsuban. There you are.
Everyone is either taking sides, or accused of taking sides. A recent article in the Washington Post that condemning the Thai protest and called on the US administration to threaten Thailand with an aid cut was met with “Bravo!” on one side and “Lame!” on the other. To some, the foreign media are helping “protect” democracy in Thailand. To others, international journalists are anything but neutral.
To make it more difficult for journalists, the “ideological swing” has been drastic and their conscience is tested on a daily basis. Most of the challenges have to do with condemnation, not praise. If one deplores a road closure, what did one do in 2010? If one thinks the rice-pledging scheme is corruption evil, is invasion of media offices not equally shocking?
The game politicians play is like a football match now, with partisan fans cheering rather blindly. Sports stories often have a paragraph that begins with “To the neutral...”, but the truth is that the neutral wouldn’t care to watch the game, to start with. In politics, maybe the neutral are not writing any newspaper article.
This is not to say that Sorrayuth is right or wrong, but there must be many like him out there. As a popular TV news host, he is scrutinised more closely than the others. The time he allocated for, say, controversial politician Chuwit Kamolvisit or foreign reports slamming the protest has not gone unnoticed. Again, to some, he was doing a great job 
balancing the issue. To others, he was adroitly but not so obviously discrediting the protest.
The bottom is, if Sorrayuth can be condemned, he can also be supported. And the same goes for those cheered by the protesters and deplored by the government. 
Perfect democracy may need perfectly neutral media. In imperfect Thailand, the best we can hope for is that imperfect media on both sides are not intimidated into silence. The people have to know both sides of the story, perhaps regardless of how extreme they are being presented.