The media play an important role in providing the people vital information in the coming Thai elections, representatives of civil society organizations said in a public forum organized by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) on 31 January 2019.
The people need to be sufficiently informed so they can effectively exercise their right to vote, said Angkhana Neelapaijit, commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand.
“Comprehensive and well-rounded reports are needed for the people to make better informed decisions,” Angkhana said.
Prof. Ubonrat Siriyuvasak of the non-governmental Media Inside Out, composed of media scholars and media practitioners, including journalists, who monitor the local media, said the media has the power to frame public discussions during the election season as it has done in the past.
Yet election coverage has been limited to whether the election will be held or not, said Nutchapakorn Nammueng, communications officer of iLaw, a civil society organization committed to monitoring lawmaking in Thailand.
The last time Thailand had its election was in 2014, when the latest military coup toppled the civilian government. In December 2018 the election commission announced the date of the election, February 24 (consequently moved to March 24).
There is a need to “dig deeper” as policy issues are underreported in the media, but the media have restricted themselves by neutrality and non-partisanship, said Nutchapakorn.
Civil rights activist Nuttaa Mahattana, popularly known as Bow, said it cannot be “business as usual” for the media, which often simply echo the dominant political voices, notably the government, at the expense of other voices that in her view need to be heard as well. Both the media and political parties contesting the election should be in an “activist mode.”
The government is given more space in the media compared to the voices of civil society, she added. “The media have to hold their ground regarding their role in authoritarian regimes,” Nuttaa said.
Angkhana, however, said the media should remain neutral. She said adherence to journalism ethics is necessary to “ensure social responsibility and accountability.”
Ubonrat, meanwhile, said the media should be “professional.” Public trust in the media has declined significantly because of negative perceptions about how the media have been discharging their tasks, she explained.
The Thai media should do a “peer check” as a self-regulation system that will help them determine how they perform their duty to inform the public, said Nuttaa.
Recognizing the role of the media as the “voice of the voiceless,” Angkhana said the media should improve themselves and work professionally, while acknowledging that just like human rights defenders, they also need “protection and immunity” when they cover sensitive issues.
The new date (March 24) of the election was announced by the Thai Election Commission on January 23, just hours after Thailand’s royal palace issued a decree announcing the conduct of the vote.
SEAPA organized the forum titled “A Public Forum on Election and Media Coverage in Thailand: Challenges and Opportunities for Broadening Public Discourse.”