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“During the past ten years of insurgency in the DeepSouth of Thailand, many Thai mainstream media has gradually withdrawn from reporting the unrest in the DeepSouth. This might be because now new issues, and centralised media organization structure that has resulted in portraying negative images of three southern border provinces.

                These weaknesses of mainstream media have paved ways for a new phenomenon of peace journalism in Thailand, which includes civil media such as online news and social media.  These are tools of peace-oriented communication, providing more spaces for local people and for solutions towards peace in the society,” said Assistant Professor Walakkamol Changkamol, dean of the Faculty of Communication Sciences, Prince of Songkla University, in a seminar on “Designing news and strength of civil media for peace in the southern Thailand/Patani, on February 27, 2014. 

The seminar was part of the Pa(t)tani Peace Media Festival [PPP 101: Ten Years of Violence, One Year of Pa(t)tani Peace Process, at the Faculty of Communication Sciences, of the Prince of Songkla University, Pattani Campus.

Peace journalism as proposed by Johan Galtung has been a new alternative approach in journalism, explained Walakkamol.  During the 1960s, there was an imbalanced flow of communication.  Western media often portrayed negative images of developing countries, mainly focusing on conflicts, and fighting using a reporting approach like that used in sport reporting. 

“This is similar to the way Thai mainstream media portraying the insurgency in the three southern border provinces,” she noted.  

However, there were changes in civil groups who have stepped beyond being victims to being aware in participation for social changes. There were also changes in media reporting with mainstream media gradually withdrawing from reporting the news about the unrest in the DeepSouth due to no new issues.  Meanwhile, online media and social media have increasingly played significant roles in conveying facts in the society.  In addition, mainstream media have been criticized. 

Many problems of mainstream media reporting on the unrest, she points out, include 1) Senders (reporters and editors), who are gateways of message.  Mainstream media depend too much on stringers and the information is hardly verified.  Sometime, stringers are not professionally trained.  Additionally, repertoires of reporters and editors are limited, for example on worldview on nationality; 2) Contents. Reports on the insurgency in the DeepSouth focus mostly on visible violence; 3) Media organizational structures which are centralised in Bangkok. Bangkok-based media often portray negative images of the unrest in the deep South, which is similar to western media portraying negative images of developing countries; and 4) Journalism codes of ethics.  Most of the times, media reports on the unrest can be categorized into crime reports with casualty.

 

New phenomenon of peace journalism in Thailand

Walakkamol noted that there are many constraints of mainstream media hindering peace process. The natures of peace process and media reporting are ironical contrast. For instance, peace process takes times while media reporting needs speed.  Whereas peace process aims to lessen excitement of the incident, media reporting needs sensitisation for selling news. Whereas peace process needs to be done secretly, media reporting needs to fetch and disseminate information. These weaknesses of mainstream media reporting have paved ways for civil media, which practice peace-oriented communication for peaceful civil society.

 

Interaction and healthy ecology of media foster peace

Dr. Phansasiri Kularb of Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University, stressed that the civil media who work for peace process in the south are on the right track and encouraged them to keep up their good works.  Although western media dominate the global news reporting, thanks to the ecology of communication, alternative media are diverse, she noted.  Although mainstream media in Thailand dominate the national communication channels, there are also civil media, such as Isra News Agency, websites of non-governmental organizations, and local radio stations.       

                                                                                      

Although Thai mainstream media often display violence in the south, Phansasiri is still optimistic, saying that diverse alternative media have negotiating power.  She cited as an example a special report on “Maroso Jantrawadee: from a Victim to RKK Leader” by Ekkarin Tuansiri from Patani Forum.  This special report article provided insightful information about Maroso’s life and interviews with his mother and wife.  A beauty of this article is that it is reprinted in many other media, including national mainstream newspapers, including Prachatai website, Isra News Agency, Matichon and Khao Sod Newspapers.  More interestingly, the story is re-disseminated and circulated in websites like Pantip and [email protected]  It has also been a topic of many researches and in various public talks, including in a talk held by Media Inside Out.  

However, political conflicts have impacts on media rather than media have impacts on politics, as commented by Gadi Walfsfeld, added Dr. Phansasiri. “These days the issue of the insurgency in the south has not been on mainstream media’s agenda as the anti-government protest in Bangkok stealing the show. She also noted that many threats of media reporting on the southern unrest, which include reporters’ safety, no cooperation from the BRN officers, and the attitude that Bangkok is the center of Thailand and that political conflicts in Bangkok are more important issue than those in the south. In addition, reports on violence in the south have often been put in crime section. 

 

Mainstream Media Push the Southern Unrest as National Agenda

Thapanee Ietsrichai, “3 Miti news” reporter, Channel 3 shared her experiences on working on the southern unrest issue for Thailand’s mainstream TV stations.  Due to media organization structure, whenever there are big incidents, including Tsunami and the Southern unrest, media flock to report the news.  Initially when she was working for iTV, reports on the southern unrest were similar to war reports due to ignorance of the cause of the unrest. When time passed, many mainstream media have withdrawn as there were no new issues. However, iTV still put a focus on the issue. When iTV closed down, Thai PBS has placed a focus on this issue while other mainstream media such as TV Channel 3 and Channel 7 have given little time for this issue.   

Thapanee noted that although media organization structure cannot be changed, reporters and editors need to push the agenda themselves.  From her experience, it has been a challenge to push the southern unrest issue as one of the main issues in mainstream media’s prime time TV program, after after-news soaps on Channel 3, with high view rating. 

 

                                     Photo: Lekha Kliengklao

Recognizing the potentials of Channel 3 and of herself, Thapanee joined the Channel 3’s project “Lom Hai Jai Plai Dam Khwan” in 2010 with 80 million Baht investment, together with a team of 80 workers and a satellite van, reporting from the unrest provinces.   The reports did not portray violence but smiles and lives of local people. Despite less air time compared to Thai PBS’s reports on this issue, 3 Miti’s coverage on the south has been packed with meaningful contents gearing towards peace, with balanced information from all parties involved and without personal comments.  She added that she has prepared several informative reports on rarely-talked-about issues such as the Malay Identity and special administration region. 

 

People’s News. People’s Views

Somkiat Jantaraseema, Thai PBS Civic Media Network Director, shared his experience, citing an example of a TV report by a Youth Network from Narathivat province about people’s preparation of Hari Raya Aidiladha festival.  The report about common lives of Muslim, which was broadcast nationwide, was among the first reports using Malay language with Thai subtitles. Somkiat said that it was the eye-opening experience and it has widened his viewpoints on Thai nationality.  

 

                                     Photo: Lekha Kliengklao

“I have understood why local people who own their stories need to do reports by themselves.  And this has prompted mainstream media to make changes. Letting Local people reporting their own stories does not only giving them voices but also giving them spaces to be in society.  Representing mainstream media, Somkiat said that he has tried to convey balance information from all parties, both state and local people to work towards peace in the society.

Associate Professor Ubonrat Siriyuvasak, media scholar shared that having heard the speakers’ experiences, she is confident that we are on the right track, and have continuously practiced peace journalism for civility, for freedom, and for development. The communication paradigm has been shifted from top-down to bottom-up, and from center-periphery to periphery-center models.  Today, we have seen civil media organizing this seminar without mainstream media.  Moreover, we have seen freedom of media, and self-determination of reporters. “I would like to say that it is beyond participation in communication because everyone is owner of his/her own stories.  I believe that practicing peace journalism based on equality can reduce violence,” she said.

Paving Ways for Peace Journalism