FURTHER self-regulation as well as the exploration of co-regulation and new codes of conduct were proposed at a media seminar yesterday as part of a new move to help stem serious offences committed by the media.
The seminar, entitled “Media’s Challenges on the Junction of Ethics”, was held by key media organisations including the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA) and the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) in the wake of a corruption scandal involving a famous TV host. This case is being seen by media practitioners and watchdogs as a new challenge for the media sector.
The Criminal Court on Monday handed down a guilty verdict to Sorrayuth Suthassanachinda, host of the popular “Rueang Lao Chao Nee” show on Channel 3, as well as other defendants in relation to the Rai-Som bribery and embezzlement scandal.
They were convicted for wrongly paying more than Bt600,000 between 2005 and 2006 to an MCOT employee to not report that Rai-Som was running additional commercials while Channel 9’s popular TV show “Kui Khui Khao” was being aired. This resulted in the MCOT losing Bt138 million in revenue.
The Criminal Court sentenced Sorrayuth and his company’s exec Montha Teeradej to 13 years and four months in jail each, while MCOT employee Pitchapa Iamsa-ard faces 20 years in prison. However, Sorrayuth appeared unfazed while hosting his show a day after the court verdict.
Thepchai Yong, president of the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, said he was disappointed that such a case should happen at a time when the media is undergoing major reforms and a new code of ethics is being written to improve the media’s performance. Media reform gained particular attention after reporters hounded a young star’s family at his funeral.
“The biggest challenge is that so far, no media-related case has gone through the judicial process like this and yet the convict acts as if nothing has happened. I think this is a challenge for the entire society,” he said, adding that the positive side is that the society will now pay more attention to the media’s shortcomings.
Thepchai also called for serious social sanctions, as he believes they are more powerful than any legal instruments. He also called for society to help put pressure on companies that continue buying advertising slots in embattled TV shows, believing that this would in turn put pressure on the channel and subsequently, the show producers.
Other media watchdogs, including Wasan Paileeklee, who was a member of the media reform panel under the now-defunct National Reform Council, said he still trusts the principles of self-regulation, though he said agencies should be set up to improve the practice and media organisations should also play a bigger role in regulating their members.
The public should be allowed to help regulate the media and some new laws may also be needed, he said, adding that those committing serious offences should also face new standards or code of ethics, just like the ones faced by political-office holders and high-ranking officials.
Supinya Klangnarong, a member of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), said it was time to seriously consider new mechanisms to enhance the media’s code of conduct, because if the effort fails this time, she is concerned that more extreme measures and state intervention may become viable, which could deprive the media of freedom of expression.
She said the NBTC was looking for lawful ways to work with digital TV operators, adding that it would call a meeting with them to discuss the development of new joint codes of conduct among media practitioners.
She also said the option of a co-regulation among media practitioners and the NBTC was being considered, in addition to the commission's moves push for a media grouping that will empower them to regulate one another.
“It’s time to work together and prove that this is not one individual’s business but that of the whole society,” Supinya said. “Rai-Som is just the tip of the iceberg.”