Malay language TV station is a positive step
But programme content will be key if it becomes popular, or not
The Southern Border Provinces Administrative Centre (SBPAC) recently launched a Malay-language station to promote the understanding of people in the deep southern provinces of Thailand.
Although it is not the first Malay-speaking TV station in Thailand, the launch of the new channel shows recognition and respect for people with a different background and culture. The deep south is a predominantly Malay-speaking region and the new channel should provide an additional forum for people to communicate and exchange their views in the language they are most comfortable with.
The launch of the new programme is under the slogan of "Hari suara kita" - or from now on, we have "our voice". The success of the new channel should thus depend on whether it can serve the purpose to become a voice for southerners.
The new Malay-speaking channel should create a forum for local people who can feel ownership of a station that respects their culture and heritage. For instance, the staff at the TV station would naturally have to understand Malay language. Thais speaking Malay would also feel more comfortable to air their views or grievances with people who understand their native tongue. The success of the new TV station will depend on its ability to promote two-way communication.
SBPAC Secretary-General Thawee Sodsong said he hoped the new station, broadcast via satellite, would help illustrate that Thailand is no longer a mono-cultural society, but has plural cultures in the deep South - with the ethnic Malay, Muslim majority having a TV channel presenting programmes in Malay.
CULTURAL AND HISTORIC GRIEVANCES
People in the southernmost provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat have long been forced to learn the Thai language, which has been the sole official language for more than a century since this country modernised its education system.
Cultural and historical grievances have caused uprisings and armed struggle in these provinces over the past century. The current wave of violence flared in early 2004, and has claimed over 5,000 lives since then. The SBPAC TV station is not the first Malay-language channel in the deep South. Three stations - Channel 5, Channel 11 and Thai PBS - present programmes in Malay, but they are not popular.
The popularity of the new Malay station will thus depend on the quality of the programmes. Programme content is set to include Islamic religious affairs, education and sport, voices of locals, economics and living standards, talk shows on a southern peace solution, culture, tourism and general news.
The programmes should also promote the participation of local people and encourage them to express their opinions. The programme should also be informative and educational. An exchange of views by the stakeholders should be encouraged to create understanding, not to fuel hatred but providing possible solutions to communities in the region.
The station managers should in fact encourage participation by locals from the start. The station logo contest is a symbolic gesture to show the government's sincerity to encourage local participation.
In addition, the Thai government should also encourage Thais in general to understand the importance of Malay study. First of all, the understanding of Malay language would enable them to better communicate with people in the different part of Thailand. Moreover, Malay is one of the most spoken languages in Asean. Greater knowledge of the language would help promote understanding and opportunity.
For locals, a shortage of Malay-language TV programmes could provide a loophole for people with malicious intent to spread false rumours to create misunderstanding. Some of the Malay speaking audience admitted that before the launch of the new TV station, they hardly understood what was said in many TV programmes because they were spoken in Thai.
At any rate, the new station is a welcoming move. It reflects a vision that, despite of different cultural backgrounds, Thais do have a shared future. The diversity can co-exist by respect and acceptance of people with different cultural background and language.