On March 3, 2016, well-known TV show host Sorayuth Suthassanachinda quit his roles at all news programs at Channel 3, following pressure from media organizations, and outpouring condemnation from moral guardians. He has been found guilty and sentenced for 13 years by the trial court of embezzling more than 138 million baht ad revenue from MCOT, a Thai state-owned public broadcaster.
Critics comment that many media organizations put pressure on Sorayuth without questioning their own ethics as there are many other media moguls, including Manager Media Group Founder Sondhi Limthongkul, who have faced lawsuits, and yet they are able to continue appearing on television without pressure.
In an attempt to explore media ethics practice, a discussion entitled “Media Ethics: in the Midst of Conflicts” was organized by Media Inside Out on March 4, 2016.
Joining the discussion were Sompop Rattanawalee, news director of Workpoint TV, Assoc. Prof. Pana Thongmeearkom, member of the Culture Ministry's National Committee on Safe and Creative Media Development, and Supan Rakchuea, deputy president of the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA)’s Media Rights and Freedom Committee. This discussion was moderated by Nithinand Yorsaengrat, veteran journalist and Matichon Online advisor.
Speakers, from left to right, Sompop Rattanawalee, Pana Thongmeearkom, Nithinand Yorsaengrat, Supan Rakchuea
“Being pressured by media professional organizations, Sorayuth has already quit. If this has set a standard for practice of media ethics, then big questions follow: “Does this practice equally apply to all the wrong doers? Can Sorayuth’s case kickstart an equal practice, for other wrong doers to be investigated in retrospect?” asks Sompop, also former producer of “Lao Kao” [news talk] TV program for Sorayuth many years ago.
In fact, there are many other media persons who crossed the line of media profession role and acted as yellow-shirt leaders of Kor Kor Por Sor (People's Democratic Reform Committee or PDRC, an anti-government protest group). And some have faced criminal lawsuits, one of whom has been sentenced for 80 years, Sompop points out.
Three TV journalists joined the PDRC on stage to topple Yingluck Shinawatra’s elected government.
Double Standard on Calling for Media Ethics
“The very essence of my message is we should use the same approach for everyone in the world of media,” stresses Sompop, who claims he is not taking side for Sorayuth.
Is there any enforcement that everyone must act according to professional codes of ethics? asks moderator Nithinand.
“In other countries, it depends on each organization. Big media organizations, like New York Times, have their own codes of ethics, which are not enforced on others,” explains Pana Thongmeearkom, a media scholar and member of the Culture Ministry's National Committee on Safe and Creative Media Development.
Generally, media codes of ethics are to inform fact and accurate information, to provide information without bias, with accountability, and not to infringe upon the right of others, says Nithinand. However, “so far the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association has focused very much on morals but has hardly been disturbed by injustice towards the people.”
Deputy president of the TBJA’s Media Rights and Freedom Committee Supan Rakchuea argues that the association has so far done its best without bias. “During the PDRC’s protest, the association issued a large number of statements. We issued statements every time media were shut down, including the case of Suthep (Thaugsuban, head of PDRC Group) forcing several TV stations to broadcast his public address) and the recent case of the red-shirt Peace TV station.”
Political Economy of Media Businesses
“It is interesting to note that severity of condemnation is different and why has Sorayuth been extremely pressured? observes Nithinand.
A group of PDRC members visited TV 3 Station and forced Sorayuth Suthassanachinda to blow a whistle, a PDRC political symbol.
Sompop views that TV broadcasting companies are 100% business companies. “It happened that the Thai politics divided into two polars during the time of Sorayuth’s “Joh Kao Den” programs, he invited both parties to express their views almost every day. Thai society is weird in a way that when you are not on their side, you are forced to be on the other side. When Sorayuth was not their side, they (the yellow-shirt people) forced him to blow a whistle (as their symbol). While there are professional media, including Thairath, who offer balanced information, there are many of those who take side. Journalists of some organizations even showed up in the protest.”
He adds that we are living in a society of double standard or “in fact, there is absolutely no standard.”
Media Role is to Protect Rights of People
Meanwhile Pana’s view is that professional media need to separate themselves from the issues they are working on. “If you take side, you are not media but campaigners.”
On practice of media ethics, he urges the media associations to come up with clearer ethics guidelines. “For example, are there any written rules for journalists to follow? What they should do if they are found guilty by the trial court?” Or, in the Sorayuth case, is he was arbitrarily pressured?”