Mass media accused of middle-class anti-reds bias

Sections of the mainstream media have been accused of double standards, plus biased and superficial portrayals of the red-shirt Democratic Alliance Aginst Dictatorhship (DAAD) movement during its failed uprising over Songkran.

Chiang Mai University law lecturer Somhai Preechasil-pakul wrote a commentary in Matichon newspaper on Monday denouncing much of Thailand’s mainstream media. He thought they had double standards and that media professionals had an upper-class bias as many view poor lower-class protesters, who make up the bulk of the red-shirt movement, as people lacking “political maturity”, whose votes can be bought by money or populist policies.

The red shirts, said Somchai, were “horrible” in the eyes of media employees opposed to Thaksin Shinawatra.

“Thus the red-shirt people are regarded as second-class citizens who need to be educated or provided with information for correct political decision-making. And because they are incapable of making independent political decisions but have simply been misled [into joining the protest] there was no need to depict the feeling and aspiration of these people,” wrote Somchai.

He said the mainstream media was not forced to do this by the state but handled the reds with “double standards” compared to their reporting on the largely middle-class yellow-shirt anti-Thaksin People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) movement because of their own convictions.

Last week, Nattawut Rungwong, a television news host on True channel’s TNN 24 also wrote a commentary, this time on on-line newspaper. He also attacked the supposedly heavily biased reports of the mainstream Thai media against the reds, stating:

“[They have] been already judged as evil that deserve [retaliation],” he wrote, adding a plea for the mainstream media not to make their reporting “even uglier”.

On Sunday, Post Today newspaper also ran a full-page photo essay on the reds uprising, which was depicted in a very negative light through its captions. One picture of a red-shirt protester looking through binoculars with the Democracy Monument in the back had a caption which read: “[You] will never find it [Democracy].”

Such complaints beg the question as to whether and why the Thai mainstream media – not the extreme vigilante media like ASTV, may be heavily biased against the reds.

The obvious first answer is the fact that these people standby an allegedly corrupt politician, Thaksin, who had a bitter relationship with the media.

But there’s also a second and equally valid answer which is often overlooked, although alluded to by Somchai. That is the fact the mainstream mass media overwhelming reflect the middle-class (and in some cases an elitist) political worldview. This is simply because editors, journalists and photographers are mostly middle class and Thai mass media is hardly a forum for the poor, less formally educated lower class, who happen to make up some 70 per cent of the Thai population.

Thus they’re more middle class’ media than “mass” media, which might supposedly include more voices from the poor majority. What they write or report on tells readers more about themselves than that of the poor.

The middle class’ daily dealings with the lower class is marked by hierarchical and patronage relationships such as one of manager-to-worker, passenger-to-taxi-driver, master-to-maid, diner-to-waiter, sex-buyer-to-sex-worker and more.

The middle class and elite are not used to truly listening to the lower class and rather wish they remain docile as cab drivers, waiters or prostitutes instead of being active as fellow Thai citizens, capable of independent and equal political thoughts and aspirations.

If lower-class people are in the news, many of the middle class rather wish they were on the news as a “good cabbie” who returns a forgotten wad of bank notes left behind by a forgetful middle class or rich passenger. Or, as an award-winning bartender, or perhaps a maid who was a rape victim of a cruel house master. To them, the poor reds can’t possibly have an independent mind and are more likely to have been duped or bribed by Thaksin and his cohorts. So it doesn’t matter much which newspapers or TV channel you subscribe to.

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