Why is the Thai media so irresponsible and inaccurate? Day after day, obvious lies are passed off as truth or ‘comment,’ unsubstantiated assertions are made and conclusions drawn without evidence or logical thought. Last week the Nation carried reports that an agreement had been made with the UAE to have Thaksin Shinawatra extradited and/or that he had been banned from the country. That turned out to be a lie (or, shall we say, an inaccuracy). Now the Nation has a new story claiming that the Thai government has been “using all means to corner Thaksin.” No evidence is adduced to support this (after all, if they did, pointed questions would be asked about the court case involved) – then again, ‘senior government figures’ often turn out to be criminal slanderers: I wrote last week that Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya was openly Accusing Khun Thaksin of ordering the death of Sondhi Limthongkul (who had just been shot). No evidence at all – just a bald accusation – and this from a Foreign Minister.
So how do they get away with it? In his 2000 book, Politics and the Press in Thailand: Media Machinations, Duncan McCargo tends to put the blame on incompetent and poorly-trained journalists more accustomed to deferring to the pooyai (big people) and not questioning what they were told. However, he also includes a quote from Girling which said: “… with powerful protectors behind them, newspapers may also denounce or libel adversaries to a remarkable degree.”
This tendency of course continues – is it the case, then, that journalists, commentators and proprietors have mistaken the concept of free speech with the ability to say anything at all without penalty? During the Thai Rak Thai administrations, for example, there was much talk about suppression of free speech by recourse to the law of libel, yet few people acknowledged that a lot of what people were saying was, clearly, libelous – unsupported assertions which damage the reputation of a person or institution is a reasonable definition of libel. A lot of comment still is libelous.