Caution needed when reporting on neighbours

AP Photo

These days, state-owned broadcasters are coming under heavy criticism because of their one-sided remarks and off-the-mark comments. In the past few days, Thailand’s excellent relations with its closest neighbour, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, suffered a major blow when a well-known TV anchorman, who works for the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT), which is part of the government’s Public Relations Department (PRD), made comments that were deemed to be condescending to the government and the people of its Eastern neighbour. Although his views did not reflect the Thai government’s official position, the fact that it was broadcast by the state-owned TV station has angered our Laotian friends.

The anchorman claimed that the Laotian people will not be able to afford to ride the high-speed train, which has now opened for passenger service from Vientiane to the Laos-China border, because the tickets are too expense and their incomes are low. The veteran host also belittled the Laotian government for its inability to pay back the loan, because the train service will not make money or cover the costs incurred for the construction of the line. His comments backfired, as the whole Laotian government apparatus, including Prime Minister Phankham Viphavanh, joined the fray. He was blunt, saying that such an insult was unwarranted.

From across the Mekong, the Laotian government and people viewed the NBT comment as the Thai government’s official position. In reality, it was not. The anchorman was not a government official, as he obtained a concession to make the news programs. In the Laos PDR, any comment, oral or written, from its state-owned media is considered the official view or position. In the case of the NBT, while it is the state-owned broadcaster, some of the news teams and anchor personnel are independent. Therefore, their views are not endorsed by the government or related authorities. Nonetheless, the NBT head, as well the program’s producer, must be held responsible when comments made in bad taste emanate from the state-own media outlet.

The Thai media community needs to be cautious and operate with a high level of sensitivity when reporting news and events in neighbouring countries, especially when such reporting or comment is not fact-based. They have to rely on the real situation on the ground, not just come up with comments without any evidence. The common practice of reporting based on hearsay or unconfirmed sources also must be avoided when possible. As a neighbouring country, its local media personnel must report developments on the ground correctly and without prejudice.

State-owned broadcasters around the world have a common objective, namely to disseminate correct and timely information about the government’s policies as well as its relations with other countries. It seems, however, that NBT has allowed outsiders to run parts of its news programs without proper vetting. In the case of the report on the high-speed train and its aftermath, which was at the centre of controversial comment, the repercussions could be far-reaching, as it could impact on Thai-China relations, as both countries are committed to the same project.

The Thai media community must improve its knowledge about neighbouring countries, especially their cultures and living conditions. In the age of social media, any person can either promote or damage the longstanding goodwill between peoples, communities and nations. Therefore, media professionalism is needed to make sure that all news and views are supported by facts.

By Kavi Chongkittavorn


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