Ideology and freedom to take a backseat in media
The divided news industry in Thailand may be too busy with business challenges this year to worry too much about principles
It's not easy to define the "challenges" facing the Thai media in 2013. "Freedom" does not seem to be the biggest issue. Even if it should be, who is complaining that they don't have it anyway? The same goes for "independence". The Thai media industry has reached a point where everyone claims he is totally independent, and being described otherwise is absolute contempt. Media members in Thailand are yearning for recognition, not sympathy. In this era of political divide, everyone competes to have his or her voice heard, and seems to have considerable liberty in doing so.
Make no mistake: political polarity has bred extremists everywhere, and journalism is no exception. The good news is that "biased" reports have been cancelling each other out. We have "pro-red" newspapers and we also have "pro-yellow" newspapers. Both camps take pride in being the "true" voice of righteousness, but whether they are right or wrong, perhaps it's better to have both at full throttle than having one or the other dominate the media landscape solely. When it comes to Thailand's political media, maybe the current status quo is as good as we can get.
One challenge, therefore, is how to utilise "freedom" responsibly. The new year will see a long-delayed, potentially explosive controversy come to a head. The so-called constitutional reform has another name - to its opposition, it's a "constitutional scam" intended to whitewash and bring back Thaksin Shinawatra and return to him his seized assets. Politicians are divided, and so are political activists and the media. Before Thailand can have a new Constitution, its political strife has the potential to reach boiling point every step of the way, and the media will play a very crucial role in the process.
The next challenge has nothing to do with ideology. In the past, "freedom" was used as a key measure for who lived or who died in the media sphere. Today, survivors are the ones who can navigate the crazy waves of the information technology revolution. In the past, the media competed over who was more fearless or independent. Today, credibility is achieved not through making a bold political statement, but through who is better at utilising and blending with the social media. Subscriptions or circulation may be still a good barometer for success or influence, but media groups ignore Facebook and Twitter at their own peril.
Incorporating the social media may not be enough. This should go alongside finding the right transition from the conventional to the new media. Newsweek, one of the best known weekly newsmagazines, has folded its print business and stepped up its online venture. The Daily, the world's first seriously conceived "e-newspaper", backed by the business and information technology acumen of Rupert Murdoch and Steve Jobs, has limped out of the digital arena after only a few months. These two key developments have scared both slow and fast movers. What or when is the right time for transition? Obviously, nobody knows for sure.
Last year saw the Thai media making all kinds of adjustments in preparation for a digital tsunami. Print journalists in various organisations have attempted broadcasting experiments. Expensive or makeshift studios have sprouted up in print newsrooms. Everyone, from top executives seeing new business opportunities, to junior reporters ready to take advantage of new experiences, will be fired up this year with the introduction of several new digital TV channels. Broadcasting journalism, an exclusive or, some may say, unsung profession a few years back, is likely to be part of a "red ocean" business battle in 2013.
All in all, the new year will be exciting for the entire media industry. Ideology may take a back seat as the fusion of old, new and social media gets in full swing, creating more innovations and unpredictability than ever before. There is no doubt the industry will grow, but it will also be greatly transformed, and it's the transformation that is hard to predict. While the news of these changes might not be totally good for media entrepreneurs, who will have to keep struggling for the right ideological, professional and business formulas, the "consumers" can only benefit. They can enjoy a new atmosphere in which news sometimes comes free, with better and better accuracy.