Nation Multimedia Taken Over By Far-Right News Corp

Suthichai Yoon. Photo: Matichon

BANGKOK — An ultraconservative news agency said Sunday that it has acquired the media conglomerate behind Thailand’s No. 2 English-language newspaper to “rescue” it from insolvency.

A week after becoming the new owner of Nation Multimedia Group, Sontiyan Chuenruetainaidhama, founder of conservative outlets T News and INN News, said it had acquired the company to keep it afloat.

“If it’s the last thing I do in my life, I will rescue The Nation,” Sontiyan said in a statement published Sunday by T News. He did not return multiple calls seeking comment Monday.

Read: Thailand’s Devastating Year For Print Was a Wake-Up Call. Adapt or Die.

T News’ acquisition of Nation Multimedia Group; which consists of two digital TV stations, English-language The Nation newspaper, two Thai papers and a publishing house; caps a three-year effort that was opposed by some of Nation’s editorial team, who circulated a petition last year protesting the buyout.

The takeover was achieved through acquisition of a controlling stock interest by T News, INN News and Spring News, which are all part of News Network Corp. Public Co. Ltd. Sontiyan, who sat on the board of both News Network and Nation, resigned as director of News Network earlier this month.

Nation Multimedia Group (NMG) closed at 0.46 baht Monday on the Stock Exchange of Thailand, where it has been sliding toward its lowest level since 2011. The media conglomerate has been in dire financial straits for years, downsizing its operations and staff to try and stem losses.

T News is ardently ultra-royalist and pro-junta on both the editorial page and its daily coverage. It has also developed a reputation for habitually reproducing news taken from other agencies without regard to copyright, for which it has been forced to apologize.

Sontiyan’s statement said nothing about changes to Nation’s editorial direction, but it was printed side-by-side with a biography touting his leadership role, alongside Suthep Thaugsuban,  in 2014 street protests seeking to topple the government and suspend democratic rule.

Though The Nation has hewed to the right on the opinion page, which hailed the 2014 coup and ensuing military rule, its daily news coverage is more right-of-center and has taken issue with the controversial lese-majeste law.

The two brothers largely responsible for what The Nation is today – co-founder Suthichai Yoon and Thepchai Yong – won’t be around.

A call seeking comment was terminated by Thepchai, who Nation news has said will depart in April. Suthichai, an energetic and combative force on the opinion page and social media before his retirement was announced Jan. 12, could not be reached for comment.

According to one of Suthichai’s colleagues, the 71-year-old said he was proud of the newspaper’s standards and values at his Jan.12 farewell party.

“I hope after my retirement everyone here will carry on the Nation Way,” he said, according to a report by Kittipong Thavevong.

Which Way Ahead?

Sunida Kitiyakara, who helped cofound Nation Group in 1971 but departed years ago, was skeptical of Sontiyan’s claim to be rescuing what is one of the nation’s largest media conglomerates.

“I read that and laughed so hard. Who does he think he is? How is he going to save The Nation, by plugging the leaks with money?” Sunida said.

She said the new management would be wise not to change the way news is reported.

“If he’s smart, he shouldn’t change the way The Nation does things,” she said. “The Nation has its unique way of reporting, unlike the usual Thai style or the way T News does it.”

A former senior editor at The Nation, whose 2014 departure was said to be over its editorial direction – she says the reasons were personal – expressed concern at the change in leadership.

“The Nation used to have its strengths and used to be reliable. But in recent years, it’s taken too many political sides that raised questions about its quality,” said Nitthinand Yorsaengrat, who now writes a column for Matichon. Both Matichon and Khaosod English are part of the Matichon Group.

Nitthinand said The Nation newsroom was open to different perspectives.

“The Nation also gives its reporters lots of leeway. Even reporters who thought differently could do their work while having fun with it,” Nitthinand said. “But will things still be like that in the Sontiyan era?”

Several staff members at The Nation did not want to comment on the news.

Pratch Rujivanarom, a current Nation reporter, said nothing has changed as yet.

“We haven’t seen any big changes yet,” Pratch said. “Right now it’s still the same set of editorial staff. Next month we might see more changes, company-wise.”

Asked whether he thought its ideological stance would change, Pratch said he had “no idea, it’s up to the new management and their policies.”

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Asaree Thaitrakulpanich can be reached at asaree@khaosodenglish.com and followed on Twitter at @Asaree.