NEWSPAPER SURVEY: Freedom of speech ‘essential’

4 January 2002
Source: The Nation

BANGKOK — Most newspaper readers in Bangkok believe that a free press is “essential”, but less than half think the media is living up to its role as a public watchdog, a recent survey found.

The survey of more than 220 Bangkok residents was conducted in late December by Bangkok-basedmedia, research and conference specialist MediaHubAsia. Surveyors asked a range of questions to uncover perceptions about newspapers’ accuracy and outspokenness as well as how much time people spent reading them and which sections they read first.

Seventy-eight per cent of respondents called freedom of expression in newspapers “essential”. The remaining 22 per cent said they thought the media should put nation-building first.

Views were generally positive when it came to whether the nation’s newspapers reflected the thinking of ordinary Thai people. Forty-four per cent of respondents said they did so “very well”, while 50 per cent said “occasionally well”. About 6 per cent considered Thai newspapers to be “out of touch” with ordinary thinking.

On perceptions ofthe media as a public watchdog, 44 per cent considered its role to be strong, but 46 per cent found it “mediocre”. The remaining 9 per cent said its watchdog role was “non-existent”.

However, the majority of respondents (57 per cent) found newspapers to be outspoken in their opinions on issues of concern; 29 per cent thought newspapers avoided issues; and 14 per cent considered their daily read to be merely a “mouthpiece of government and business”.

In terms of accuracy, Thai newspapers came out well with 92 per cent of respondents saying they considered newspapers were accurate or mostly accurate in recording business, political and social events. The remaining 8 per cent believe the media “usually gets it wrong”.

Newspapers read by the survey group were mostly Thai-language ones, with just 9 per cent reading the English-language press. Of the Thai titles identified, 48 per cent read Thai Rath and 18 per cent subscribed to Daily News. Most (90 per cent) said their newspaper of choice delivered good value. The remaining 10 per cent thought newspapers expensive.

The survey found that the news pages were what most readers read first, luring 69 per cent of respondents. However, 13 per cent of readers flipped to lifestyle and feature pages first, and 11 per cent made sports pages their first stop.

An overwhelming 65 per cent of readers looked for entertainment and leisure first among the classified pages, followed by 24 per cent seeking out the homes/possessions advertisements and 6 per cent seeking jobs.

Respondents demonstrated serious reading habits, with 21 per cent devoting more than 45 minutes a day to their newspaper, 39 per cent up to 30 minutes and 31 per cent up to 15 minutes.

All those surveyed said they received their international and local news from more than just reading newspapers. Ninety-one per cent said they supplemented it by television, 6 per cent by listening to the radio and 3 per cent also found out about news second-hand from conversations withrelatives and colleagues.

MediaHubAsia managing director Nigel Lilburn said: “Overall, we feel the survey results show an encouraging reliance on newspapers as pillars of strength and wisdom in a landscape that sometimes shakes and wobbles. Newspapers are not seen merely as conveyors of news, but are part of the public apparatus of gauging accountability and transparency.

He added: “On the economic side,It’s interesting to see that for advertisements a high percentage of readers go first to entertainment, leisure, home and possession ads rather than jobs. You could interpret this as meaning that, despite hard times, people still have money to spend on Thailand’s natural sanook [fun] lifestyle.””You could also read into results that those who have jobs are generally satisfied to be where they are.”