Voranai: How the Media Fail the People

Voranai VanijakaWhat do the leaders behind Thailand’s political factions have in common? They all are wealthy and powerful, and have news media outlets peddling hate on their behalf.

Hate is a powerful emotion. It’s exciting and energizing, and biochemically pumps adrenaline into our body. Heart beating and blood boiling, we lash out in rage, and at times, violence. It strips away intelligence and tears apart decency.

When good and intelligent people succumb to hate, their goodness and intelligence give way to anger and intolerance.

Hate serves the political purpose of uniting the people into groups, cohesive and obedient, and sets them to vilify and destroy anyone deemed the enemy. Point the finger, give the command, and hate will see to the task.

When covering the protests of Thailand’s political factions, one sees a common display on the rally stages, only with different names and colors. In between singing performances and festival-like shows, protest leaders would take to the stage with a single purpose: peddling hate.

Rouse them up. Burn them with passion. Ignite them with fire. Then point and give the command to attack.

After which hate saw to the task and killed more than 100 people, many more imprisoned, thousands made casualties and billions of bath destroyed since the political turmoil started in 2005. As well, a democratic nation relegated into military dictatorship.

But why blame protest leaders? They were simply doing the job they were paid to do, peddling hate to secure political power for their bosses. No need to blame the people either. Their job is to follow, whether to Love Land or Hate Ville. Of course, we can blame the wealthy and powerful leaders behind those protests.

But why would they care? Their job is to acquire more wealth and power.

Instead, let’s place a fair portion of the blame on the only group of people in this comedy of errors that’s not doing their job – the news media. Not every news outlet is guilty of this, certainly. But too many are.

The news media are a powerful instrument because they dispense information that impacts hearts and minds, whether through news reports, analyses or commentary.

In a dictatorship, the news media are a government propaganda tool to brainwash the people into complete obedience. Journalists who question the authority or legitimacy of the government are threatened, detained or outright imprisoned.

In a democracy, the news media are an instrument of checks and balances. To keep check on the wealthy and powerful, in government, political parties/factions, the military or big business. To investigate and report on corruption and abuse of power. To analyze hidden agendas and ulterior motives. To give objective and balanced information to the people.

Knowledge and information are power that can be translated into people’s power. Consuming the news is for the purpose of learning and understanding, to gain the information necessary to make an informed and intelligent decision.

But once a news outlet declares for a political party, endorses a political leader, sides with a faction or chooses a political color, it ceases to be fair and objective.

(This is not unique to Thailand. In the US, the media have done such a fine job of peddling hate opposing hate groups roam the streets waging pitched battles in the name of their brands of righteous ideology.)

As such, people are left to consume messages of hate peddled by newsmen, analysts and commentators on behalf of the wealthy and powerful. Read an article, and the heart skips 12 beats. Listen to a commentary, and the blood boils. Follow the different media talking heads, and the adrenaline pumps hate and rage into every fiber.

So the people unwittingly march against the abuse and corruption of the opposing political faction, with the unintentional goal of replacing it by the abuse and corruption of the political faction of their allegiance.

Instead, the people should march against abuse and corruption, no matter the color shirt worn by the government – red, yellow, blue or green. However, for this to happen, the news media must take the lead in checking the abuses and corruption of the wealthy and powerful.

All political factions – as all governments, dictatorship or democratic – are wealthy and powerful, even if their rank and file consist of the poor and downtrodden. Therefore, they all should be subjected to news media scrutiny.

If the news media aren’t doing its job, how then can the people gain the knowledge and information necessary? Of course, the news media aren’t entirely to blame for Thailand’s political black hole. But in its role of checks and balances, the news media have failed the people.

And now living under a military junta, the news media’s main role has been degraded into an object scolded and scorned by the dictator, an emotional waste basket for him to dump on.

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Voranai Vanijaka is the former editor-in-chief of GQ Magazine Thailand. He teaches Global Media Studies at Thammasat University. From 2008 to May 2014, he wrote the Sunday Column on politics and society for the Bangkok Post.