Political Journalism: New Challenges, New Practices

By Raymond Kuhn; Erik Neveu | Go to book overview

5

Political journalists and their sources in Thailand

Duncan McCargo

Thailand is one of the major nations of Southeast Asia, with a population of over sixty million. Traditionally a rice-growing and agricultural economy, since the 1960s it has experienced rapid economic growth and industrialisation. During the late 1980s Thailand was the world’s fastest growing economy, but the Asian financial crisis which began in Bangkok in 1997 raised questions about the sustainability of the country’s success.

Thailand has a lively print media, with a constantly changing range of daily and weekly news publications. Top-selling newspapers are characterised by ‘yellow journalism’ and feature front pages festooned with gory pictures of accident and murder victims. Nevertheless, even the down-market newspapers have surprisingly extensive political coverage, and politicians are particularly concerned about the way their activities are written up in top-selling publications such as Thai Rath. Circulation figures are often inflated; the total daily sales of newspapers are probably less than two million. At the same time, each copy of a newspaper generally passes through many hands - especially in rural areas, where the main dailies are often centrally available in village ‘reading shelters’.

Prominent newspaper columnists who write highly opinionated critical pieces are often very influential. Close personal connections, sometimes financial ones, exist between newspaper owners, editors, columnists and reporters, on the one hand, and their counterparts in the political world, on the other. Historically, newspapers have rarely functioned as conventional businesses in Thailand. Those who established or purchased newspapers typically did so in order to secure power and influence for themselves: the Thai press has generally been partisan to the core. While the leading newspapers Thai Rath and Daily News remain family concerns, other press outlets are typically owned by companies in which their founders retain a significant or controlling interest. Even a loss-making newspaper may bring financial or personal benefits to its owners in Thailand. Some owners have used the business pages of their newspapers to talk up companies in which they held shares, while others have backed particular politicians or prominent figures and been rewarded in other spheres. There is considerable pluralism in the Thai media system, and a fair diversity of views. At the

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