Communication is a vital resource for most political actors and media are an important outlet for social movements, where the quantity and quality of news coverage influence how they are perceived by the public. However, studies showed that mainstream media tend to produce biased coverage of protest groups which challenge the status quo.The present thesis examines whether this tendency is replicated in Thailand’s English-language press. This task is attempted with a case study of the Bangkok Post (BP) and The Nation (TN) coverage of the 2010 ‘red shirt’ protest. The researcher conducted a mixed qualitative and quantitative analysis of the two newspapers’ daily issues published in the period March 1st to May 31, 2010 to determine the rhetoric used to describe the protest(ers), the sources of information, the grammar devices and the cultural and ideological frames of reference used.Research findings show that the two print media: (1) over-relied on official sources and gave little voice to the protesters; (2) emphasized violence (and/or the threat of it) as opposing to the issues the protest intended to raise; (3) delegitimized the protest(ers) and framed them as being the Other in an Us-Them framework; (4) covered the protest with a de facto pro-establishment orientation. This study casts light on the discursive structure of BP and TN media message, its cultural, historical and political backgrounds and the role media play in mediating its meanings.
This project revolves around a case study of two English-language newspapers, the Bangkok Post (BP) and The Nation (TN), in their reporting of the March to May 2010 United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) ‘red shirt’ protest against the Abhisit Vejjajiva government in Bangkok, Thailand. This work does not intend to study what happened in Bangkok in 2010, but rather wants to assess what two newspapers (BP and TN) said it happened, how they said it and why. On a broader sense, this study was undertaken with the wide-ranging intention of casting light on the landscape of the relationships between media and politics, with a focus on political protest, in Thailand in the early 21st century.
Theoretical framework and hypotheses
What is known and what is unknown about the topic? A great deal is known about how mainstream media tend to report protest. Much is written and available about media coverage of protest events in America, Europe and other realities. Yet, no prior English-language study has been published on the precise issue of how Thailand’s English-language print media outlets cover political protest events in the Kingdom. Seeing that there is a gap in the literature, this study hopes to contribute a better understanding of the relationships between mainstream media and political protest in Thailand.
Prior studies which have looked at the relationships between communication and protest concluded that there is a tendency of news outlets to favor the status quo in their coverage of protests. This tendency has been labeled as ‘Protest Paradigm’ (Chan and Lee 1984). The Protest Paradigm holds that mainstream media tend to be biased in reporting sociopolitical protests by covering these events in a way which delegitimizes and vilifies the protesters, their issues, their demands and everything else they stand for (e.g. Chan and Lee 1984; Hertog and McLeod 1995; McLeod and Detenber 1999; Boyle et al. 2004; Arpan et al. 2006; McLeod 2007; McCluskey at al. 2009; Boyle et al. 2012). A number of common features used by the media to represent protests are the following:
- Over-reliance on official sources and official definitions in the reporting;
- Spectacle: tendency to emphasize the protesters’ actions rather than their objectives or demands. Confrontations with police and violence, too, are considered newsworthy;
- News frames: the media select certain ways of framing the news to promote a particular agenda;
- Delegitimization: the media fail to adequately explain the protesters’ claims, objectives, reasons and requests, thus giving the audience the impression that the protest(er) is unreasonable or irrational;
- Othering: tendency to portray the protesters as the Other in an Us-Them framework where the Us is the non-protesting audience;
- Demonization: the media plays high or exaggerates the protesters actions or negativities (e.g. violence) to sustain their assumptions or make headlines.
This study tested the widely used Protest Paradigm in the case of the BP and TN coverage of the 2010 UDD protest in Bangkok. The main hypothesis is that the BP and TN followed the Protest Paradigm in the above mentioned six points.
The data for the case study which is at the center of this research have been drawn from the daily issues of the BP and TN newspapers published in the period March 1 to May 31, 2010. The methodology employed for the research is a mixed quantitative and qualitative case study of the BP and TN media coverage of the event. This method allowed taking into account both the quantifiable elements of the texts and certain non-quantifiable aspects of the media reporting, and to complement them with further elements of information drawn from other sources.
To analyze quantitatively the selected samples, the research utilized code sheet tables originally developed by Halloran et al. (1970: 95-ff.). Halloran et al. listed all words used by the media to describe a demonstration and asked ten independent judges to assign the words to one of a number of basic categories: ‘favorable,’ ‘unfavorable,’ ‘neutral,’ ‘specific.’ This research employed Halloran et al.’s original code sheets and added a series of words relevant to this study.
Thailand’s English-language print media
Bangkok Post and The Nation (BP and TN) are the only two English-language daily newspapers published in Thailand. BP belongs to The Post Publishing Company, whose major shareholders are GMM Grammy Pcl. (Thailand’s largest media and entertainment conglomerate) with 23.6%, the Chirathivat family (owners of Central Group) with 20.28%, and the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong with the 13.49%. BP tends to be rather ‘mainstream’ and monarchic, and critics describe it as mostly uncritical of the government of the time (Coleridge 1994: 442).
TN was established in 1971 as the first fully Thai-owned English-language daily newspaper. TN is owned by Nation Multimedia Group, which listed in the Stock Exchange of Thailand in 1988. Suthichai Yoon, one of the founding editors, believes that TN has the “moral right to comment critically on our own country” (Coleridge 1994: 442). Although it is true that TN tends to be more outspoken than BP, yet in practice this ethos translates into a tendency to present nationalist, pro-royalist and pro-elitist views.
Both BP and TN’s readerships comprehend two main subgroups: (1) middle and upper class Thais who have gained access to the English language through education, and (2) foreigners based in Thailand or anyway interested in Thai issues. BP and TN have a daily circulation somewhere in the fifty to eighty thousand range, more than ten times smaller than Thai Rath, the most sold Thai-language daily. Although the numbers of the English-language press are inferior to the main Thai-language national newspapers, yet it must be considered that Thailand is “largely a society of non-readers” as well as an “elite-dominated society characterized by top-down governance” (McCargo 2002: 41-42). As a consequence,
“…relatively small readerships… are extremely influential. Politicians, bureaucrats, military officers, business people and local intellectuals do read newspapers, and these groups are important in forming public opinion” (McCargo 2002: 41-42).
|ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Alessio Fratticcioli is a MA graduate from Southeast Asian Studies Programme, Chulalongkorn University, 2012.|
 The Stock Exchange of Thailand, accessed at http://www.set.or.th/ on July 30th, 2012.
 The Thai Rath circulation figures were 1,200,000 in 2004. Yet its readership numbers were almost eight times higher at 9,254,000 (World Press Trends 2005: 638).