By Teeranai Charuvastra
BANGKOK — Thakoon Boonparn, an executive who helped shape Matichon Group into one of the most influential publishing houses in Thailand died of cancer on Tuesday. He was 59.
Thakoon died at his home on Tuesday afternoon, nearly two years after he was first diagnosed with cancer in 2019, the company said in a statement.
Under his leadership as a Vice President and former MD, Thakoon transformed the Matichon Group from a traditional publisher into a multimedia juggernaut that survived the onslaught of online disruptions. He was also a lifelong writer committed to transparency and democracy who commanded respect across the ideological spectrums of Thailand’s journalist circle.
“Mr. Thakoon played a key role in pioneering and developing Matichon Group, which includes Matichon, Khaosod, and Prachachat, into a media business respected and trusted by the society, from the paper-based era to the digital world,” a company statement said.
“He was committed to honesty and integrity of journalism. He supported principles of democracy, and believed that an important value in his career is to have a stance, and an intimate knowledge of as many fields as possible, in order to deliver the news and information to the public as a media,” the statement said.
Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra offered a message of condolences to Thakoon’s family, calling the veteran newsman “a brother who gave me a lot of good advice.”
“He was a reader, a thinker, a writer, and a democracy believer who never wavered in his ideology and principle,” Yingluck wrote online.
Thakoon, or “Tong,” was born on Dec. 18, 1961, to the Boonparn family, which founded and owned Matichon Group. He finished high school education at the prestigious Suankularb Wittayalai and graduated from Chulalongkorn University with a degree in International Relations, at a time when Thailand was living through the military-led regime of “semi-democracy.”
He first joined the Matichon Group in 1984 as a reporter. Thakoon spent the following years covering financial and political affairs for Prachachat, the business newspaper owned by the group, during which he befriended some of the most influential forces behind Thailand’s monetary policies.
His first test of leadership came in 1990, when the company assigned him a command at the group’s daily newspaper, Khaosod. With Thakoon at the helm as the executive editor, the little-known tabloid rose to one of the top three biggest newspapers in Thailand, alongside the more established heavyweights like Thairath and Daily News.
During his tenure as Khaosod editor, he envisioned a future where news would be consumed almost exclusively on digital platforms within “eight seconds of loading time.” In 2010, Thakoon set out to prepare the company for the post-paper era, and Khaosod was one of the first news agencies with a social media presence in Thailand.
“It was a simple dilemma. Everyone knew that paper publication was on the way down, not only at Matichon, but in the rest of the world,” Thakoon said in a 2018 interview. “It already happened in the Western society, where technology was more advanced, and where reading culture was even stronger than ours. Their newspaper industry was bigger than ours, yet it was already disrupted.”
As he juggled the need to cater to the short attention span of the digital audience, Thakoon also insisted on his principles that the media’s foremost duty is to uphold human rights and democratic governance.
That was why Khaosod, together with its sister publications, gave extensive coverage of the military crackdown on Redshirt protesters in 2010, which resulted in at least 90 deaths, and the fruitless calls for justice that followed.
“Matichon and Khaosod share the same voice: This was unacceptable,” Thakoon said of the crackdown. “This kind of thing cannot happen in our country. They can’t just kill people like that. And if the killings already started, then there must be a trial to prove what was the truth. Once the truth comes out, there must be justice. Otherwise, this society cannot move forward.”
He went on, “If we allowed a bloody crackdown to happen right in the middle of our city, and if we didn’t care about it, we should just quit this job. That’s how we were taught. Go do other jobs. Don’t work in a newspaper if you don’t care about what is right.”
After his tenure at Khaosod ended that year, Thakoon was promoted to the executive positions at Matichon Group, having held the position as a manager, an executive board member, and a vice president.
Thakoon also continued to pen columns and articles for Matichon’s publications, most notably in Matichon Weekly, a magazine detailing political roundups and insider information in Thailand each week. He wrote about everything interesting about Thailand, from cooking and music to the latest government graft.
Khaosod English was founded in 2013 under his vision of presenting news about Thailand and explaining its unique oddities to the foreign audience. His motto for the newborn publication was “Very Thai, with an international heart.”
He was diagnosed with cancer in 2018 – without displaying any symptoms. The news forced him to relinquish his day-to-day leadership of the company and sought medical treatment. His condition worsened in November, which required him to be hospitalized, but Thakoon maintained good spirits and kept in touch with his peers.
Thakoon died at his home on Tuesday afternoon. He is survived by his wife and son. His funeral is set to take place on Wednesday at Wat Samian Nari.