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State and Media in Thailand During Political Transition

Chavarong Limpattamapanee
Arnaud Leveau

The Papers

Media and Ethics

Thongbai Thongpao

Texte intégral

1Media and Ethics are always in pair and need to syncronize with each other. The Media should not only call for freedom but also ethics. After checking ethics, Media must not separate ethics from itself.

1 - Definition

2When we looks for the meaning in Thai of these two terms in Dictionary of the Thai Language by Royal Institute 1999 edition, MEDIA is defined as "a medium to convey news and information to the public such as newspaper, radio, TV and journalistsʺ. While ETHICS, the definition is it is eitherʺ The right principles (Dharm) that should be adopted in life’s conduct or Moral Principle or Law of Moral Principle".

2 - Code of Ethics

3In 1997, Thailand’s press community agreed to found The National Press Council of Thailand, NPCT. The NPTC members convened and adopted the Code of Ethics which became effective on 30th March 1998. Below are excerpts from the Code:

Section II: Code of Ethnic and Guideline for Newspapers

4Item 4: Newspapers must hold the truth to the be the highest

5Item 5: Newspapers must present news taking into consideration the Benefit of the public, not of an individual.

6Item 6: Newspapers must be fair to all parties mentioned in the news stories.

7Item 7: Newspapers must not make up false stories.

8Item 8: Newspaper must be neutral with its presentation with the understanding that bias reporting could results in a legal action taken against the party/parties mentioned in the article.

9Item 9: Newspapers must refrain from putting the opinion of the Individual reporter in the news article.

10Item 10: Newspapers must make references to the source regardless if The information is obtained from a printed text or an individual.

11Item 11: When making references that could damage the reputation of an individual, newspapers must give that party the opportunity to state his case.

12Item 12: In cases where an error has been committed, newspapers must Issue a correction as soon as possible.

13Item 13: Newspaper must not present news in such a way that the source of the stories could be revealed.

14Item 14: Newspapers must ensure that confidentiality of the source and take into the consideration that the well being of the source could be at stake if the identity of that source is revealed.

15Item 15: Newspapers must take into consideration the humanitarian Principle and the dignity of an individual person when he or she is being presented in photo or mentioned in news story.

16Item 16: Headlines must not be exaggerated to the point that it Distorted the truth or the news story.

17Item 17: Newspapers must use their judgment when presenting photograph that may be violence or pornographic in nature.

18Item 18: Newspapers must be just when making references to any party in its editorial or analysis.

19Item 19: Advertisements in the newspaper must present itself as a paid advertisement and not a news story.

Section III: Code of Ethic for Reporters

20Item 20: Journalists must not violate the integrity of the institution of the independent media and the profession in which he or she works.

21Item 21: Journalists must not abuses his position or make use of the profession in such ways that would result in obtaining favors.

22Item 22: Journalists are prohibited from taking bribe or accepting Valuable gifts or favors from sources because it could influence directly or indirectly the content of news reporting.

Section IV

23Item 23: Journalists must not accept any privilege or position that will influence their professional performance in disseminating correct and comprehensive information.

24Item 24: When presenting news report, newspapers must take into consideration the welfare and the benefit of the general public.

25Item 25: Newspapers must obtain information in a dignified manner

26Item 26: Newspapers must not have a hidden motive when expressing Opinion or news analysis.

27Item 27: Newspapers must take into consideration the rights of an individual and balances it with the public's right to know.

28Item 28: Newspapers must not allow paid advertisements to violate established code of ethic of their industry and take into consideration the customs and values of the Kingdom.

29Item 29: Newspapers must avoid paid advertisements that knowingly distribute false information to the public.

30Item 30: Newspapers must not use profanity and avoid obscene gestures In its reporting.

3 - NPCT Missions

31Then NPCT has set up sub-committees supporting its mission on Ethics issues. They are Sub-Committee on Public Relations and Sub-Committee on Complaints. Both has responsibility to communicate to the public about NPCT’s missions and handle complaints. The procedure of handling complaints is set out clearly in NPTC Rule on Adjudicating Complaints 1998. The principle is any party, either a direct victim or disinterested one, can bring complaints to the Sub-Committee whenever he/she witnesses or finds news, articles, pictures or journalists that breach the Ethics Code. After this rule was in effect, in 1998-1999 alone, there were 39 complaints submitted to the Sub-Committee.

32This event prompted NPCT to issue warnings to newspapers in its announcement on 6th June 2000. The announcement said:

ʺIn the circumstances that newspaper needs to report news that will have a negative effect or damage to a party, either a person or an organization, it should show that it tries its best in giving opportunities for accused party to answer the charges instead of relying on interviews or documents obtained only from one side without checking for accuracies and factual truth. A newspaper must be fair to those it criticizes.ʺ

4 - Guidelines

33A newspaper should take a great care to prevent itself from becoming tools or means of distribution or dissemination propaganda, advertisement or information that is dangerous to the society as well as becoming media for advertisements of pornographic materials such as movies, video, DVD or pictures including ads for sexual servicesʺ

34Since the inception, NPCT has closely monitored issues and trends of society. That means a timely action to issue warnings and guidelines for publishing news and photos by NPCT whenever problems happen.

35One of the examples is the issuing of Guidelines for covering HIV Aids story in the Announcement No. 2/2546 effective 16th October 2003. The Guidelines cover many practices including:

  • no printing of a name and surname of HIV-AIDS victim
  • no printing of a photo that the public can identify HIV-AIDS victim
  • no printing a photo of HIV-AIDS victim that will upset or create hate or fear of the subject among readers

36Recently, NPCT also issues the Guideline on covering Victim of Sexual Harassment to ensure that its members (now more than 40 newspaper around the country, 95% of National newspaper are its members-Chavarong) work along the ethical standard.

37The latest ethical issues NPCT is drafting guidelines on nondiscrimination of races, ethnicities and religion. This follows several headlines and photos using languages or portrayal of ethic minorities or non-Buddhists that display disrespect of subject’s human dignity, breaching the Convention for Total Abolition of All Forms of Races Discrimination. These coming Guidelines will elevate quality and prestige of newspaper. That is what NPCT wants: newspaper with a standard of excellency.

38In my opinion, to reach this goal, we have to rely on our professional ethics.

39NPCT also realized that respecting the ethics will not only honor the newspaper but it is an essential tools to fight the illegitimate or dictatorial power, this will also make the newspapers get support from the public. If the newspaper respect and work along the code of ethics, no power will be able to destroy us.

40In the past two weeks, the members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) who allied with the Press organizations proposed a bill to abolish the draconian Press Act 1941 which has been use by several governments to suppress the newspaper freedom because they know that "Free Media" means "Free People". To preserve their cling to power, various tyrant regimes issued laws to control the media. One of that law is the Press Act whose aim is to directly control the print media.

41Despite The 1941 Act empowers state officials to censor news, this law has softer penalty measures and less severe than other means used by the state. Past cases show that when the state wants to punish the press, criminal law is its most favorable tools. If a journalist is a target, the defamation charge is filed by prosecutors. If it is about the monarchy, the lease majestie is used. If the state needs to destroy the opponents it will use the most severe criminal charges. Martial Law and Emergency Situation Law both empower the state to curb press freedom. There are also extraodinary laws enacted in the time of past dictators such as Sarit and the post-6 Oct 76 regime which are called Order of the Revolution Council and Order of the Reform Council. Compared with these laws, the Press Act seems a minor injury to the press, but it still causes annoyance and should not be allowed to exist to be an ugly scar of democracy and freedom.

42We then totally support the sponsors of the Bill to Abolish the Press Act 1941 because the 1941 Act is useless for the public. Abolishing the 1941 Act is like destroying a symbol of dictatorship.

5 - Interesting Points to Study

43NPCT does not regulate every media in this country, it can only regulate its members on voluntary basis. Looking deeper, we will find that each ‘member’ of NPCT, i. e. newspaper or media association, has ‘men’ to drive it. Without man, newspaper or association cannot perform anything.

44Men is most important in adopting ethical practices. Therefore, NPCT should promote the practice within ethical standard among journalists, which mean good quality of news that are being reported to the public.

45NPCT is going on the right track.

46The mission that NPCT needs to keep working on is building the press into an excellent and ethical media.

47Thailand is a democratic country and a free society, people have freedom including free media.

48Newspapers are not only published in Bangkok, but around the country. The newspapers today may not cover only political news, but also other types of news such as entertainment or sometime nudity. However, all these newspaper also have to follow code of ethics.

49Nowadays, there are a lot of TV and radio programs that using one or two famous anchorpersons to read news from newspaper on air. People are doubtful about the standard of the quality of the program.


50Do you agree with me that if all these anchorpersons follow code of ethics of NPCT, the authorities will never be able to use law to trail him?

51I was always invited to speak on the topic, "How to write a news story that will never be sued", but I deny and suggest them to change the topic to "How to write a news story that when is was sued, you will not face jail term or paying huge amout of compensation in civil case"

52There are still debates in this country whether we should be more aware of some news and mass media such as Soap Opera, Movie and Advertising.

53Therefore I would suggest that other media that do not work under the NPCT's code of ethics should create their own self-regulatory body to make their self regulation works.

54This is the time when we need to help each other.


Honorary Committee member, the National Press Council of Thailand (NPCT)

© Institut de recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est contemporaine, 2007

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