The Nation



Spotlight on foreign media coverage of Bangkok's crisis

More than 200 people in the northeastern province of Buri Ram march along a road in Nang Rong district yesterday, demanding political reform be implemented before the February 2 general election.

More than 200 people in the northeastern province of Buri Ram march along a road in Nang Rong district yesterday, demanding political reform be implemented before the February 2 general election.

New York Times writer and BBC man criticised for recent reports

The flare-up in the political divide has seen foreign media outlets under attack again over their coverage of Thai politics.

The BBC's Jonathan Head has cross swords with Tony Cartalucci of the Alternative Thai News Network and NSNBC, which hit back with a point-by-point counter-attack. Cartalucci also criticised the work of Thomas Fuller of The New York Times.

ASTV Manager and Thai PBS's news editor Sermsuk Kasitipradit also criticised Fuller and his quoting of independent legal expert Verapat Pariyawong on the "war" between different classes in Thailand.

Verapat said he told Fuller his quote in the NYT article may have been too short and may cause Thais to misunderstand. However, Fuller reportedly said there may not be capacity to amend the quote in the NYT working process. But Fuller 'tweeted' to inform critics they had misinterpreted what Verapat had said.

Verapat attacked the intention and language limitations of his critics.

Fuller declined to talk to The Nation about the matter.

Social media users have shared articles and reports by foreign media outlets, claiming that some journalists showed bias in their selection of commentators such as street vendors or unnamed business people on one side and academics on the other.

President of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand Anasuya Sanyal said foreign correspondents who cover political situation in Thailand included those with full-time positions and freelancers who are based here, plus others who just fly in to report the situation. They may or may not come to the FCCT and ask other journalists for recommendation about news sources. As well as expertise on their topic of interest, they often just want people who can communicate clearly in English.

"Some people are quoted more frequently than other people. Part of that is the relationship. Sometimes people don't want to talk [refuse to give an interview]," she said, adding that the media also had to face deadlines. When some people do not pick up the phone, journalists sought comment from others.

The media needed to find analysts to analyse situations, and often only learnt a source's stance or views when interviewing them. And the pool of sources here was actually relatively small, she said.

'People on one side or the other'

"It would be great if we had a diversity of sources. But a problem here in Thailand right now is that we know people are extremely on one side or the other, even university professors who make up our analysts," she said.

"What people outside Thailand want is to understand of what's going on. They don't want some people who say specifically about one side or the other that they support," she said.

In regard to criticism that foreign journalists look at what is happening here and make judgements because of their background, Sanyal said, "We can't change who we are or where we come from. "I think part of the complication comes when... (pause) we just have one word for democracy and there's a very strict definition of democracy. And when it's not [appropriate to use that word], we won't call something democratic."

Sanyal, an American journalist who has worked in Bangkok for eight years, noted that there were differences among media outlets and said that readers or TV new audiences also realised these differences.

Mana Treelayapewat, a lecturer in journalism at the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, said Thais may have looked too highly and given too much credit to Western media outlets and may not have done their homework in assessing them properly.

Moreover, correspondents also had Western ideologies without trying to understand the roots of Thai society.

"Looking at democracy only as a representative system is too narrow and ignores [aspects of a] direct democratic system. That is like saying democracy only means elections," he said.

"If so, I'd like to compare with our neighbour Myanmar where Aung San Suu Kyi also boycotted the election. Why does the Western media look at that differently?" he said.

Last week, the former dean of Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Political Science, Charas Suwanmala, raised concerns that comments by academics given to foreign media were often becoming targets of harsh criticism in social media.

He raised the case of his colleague Thitinan Pongsudhirak, director of the Institute of Security and International Studies, who had consulted him after an exaggerated interpretation of his comments.

Charas said it was possible that readers were inclined to selectively consume and judge media content. If it was not clear that a speaker was supporting their side, they might dismiss the speaker as supporting their rivals.

Charas called on all people to be broad-minded and accept different opinions.

"Academics should not be condemned as long as they honestly opine academically and independently," he said. "But if they are academics who have sold their souls, are being paid by some people to support one side, give comments without considering the facts or without caring for what is right or wrong, then they deserve to be condemned."

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