THE MEDIA NEEDS a truly reliable system of checks and balances to ensure it does not fall under the sway of big business, Suchada Chakpisuth, director of the Thailand Information Centre for Civil Rights and Investigative Journalism (TCIJ) has said.
The TCIJ recently broke news of alleged bribery of journalists by a food giant in order to boost its public image and minimise any negative news about the company.
Suchada told The Nation in an interview that the scandal involving at least 18 mid-management journalists from various news organisations reflected the fact that the mainstream mass media was at its lowest point.
She called on the establishment of a truly trustworthy system of checks and balances, where select members of the public would play a role in scrutinising the media and people outside the industry would serve as ombudsmen for media organisations.
Self-regulation without outsider involvement has failed, Suchada said, adding that the TCIJ has some 200 files containing some 7,000 pages of documents that will further reveal the nature of big business’ improper conduct.
But she said the Press Council, which was conducting an inquiry into the allegation, had not shown any interest in obtaining these documents.
She said some journalists had called her but only wanted to know if they were on the list of bribed journalists.
Klanarong to probe scandal
The TCIJ had not revealed the list as it wanted the public to pay attention to what it believed to be systemic and unethical practices. It preferred this approach over going after individual journalists.
The National Press Council has set up an independent panel, led by former National Anti-Corruption Commission member Klanarong Chanthik, to investigate the scandal.
Suchada said she was ready to defend her position and that of the TCIJ in a lawsuit against the food giant, if need be.
After the TCIJ released its report, Charoen Pokphand Foods admitted the incriminating documents came from it but the firm said the documents were partly doctored and distorted. CPF insists it did nothing unethical.
Suchada said she stood by her report, which she wrote, and was willing to reveal more information in court if necessary. She said it was possible to technically prove if the documents had been doctored.
The company should realise that using such tactics to manipulate the media was not “worth it”.
As for the mainstream media, Suchada believes some organisations must have had some inkling on what was happening between the company and the journalists but refused to break the news due to their cosy relations with the firm.
“They may even know more than the TCIJ,” she said.
“But why wouldn’t they reveal it? It is because they have conflict of interests?”
Suchada criticised media associations’ management training programmes, where they put together mid-level journalists and private company executives.
This, she said, was a breeding ground for possible nepotism as it led to close ties between media professionals and business people and could lead to the censorship of news that was negative about corporations.
Suchada founded the TCIJ in 2010. She was the founding editor of the famed Sarakadee Magazine (Feature Magazine).