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Coverage of actor’s funeral shows need for reform

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Questions raised over media ethics and behaviour

THE recent funeral of TV heartthrob Tridsadee “Por” Sahawong moved the public in many ways. Not only did his death result in a flood of tears, it also saw public anger being directed at the media for what many deemed was inappropriate news coverage, starting from the day Tridsadee was admitted to Ramathibodi Hospital suffering a rare form of dengue haemorrhagic fever to the day his ashes were scattered at sea.
Images of photographers flocking around his coffin went viral on social media, triggering criticism that the media showed a sheer lack of respect to Tridsadee’s family.
One of photographers at the scene, who wanted to be known only as “T”, said entertainment photographers and reporters told one another to “behave properly” while covering the Tridsadee story when he was in hospital.
“We told each other to dress properly and not to take any inappropriate photos,” T said. “My office insisted that I must not take photos of the ailing actor, otherwise I could infringe on his rights and that would be problematic.”
But during the funeral, he said, it was hard to take precautions because “everyone basically flocked together and it was hard to tell who was who”.
T believes that the most effective bodies to implement measures that would stop this kind of situation from occurring should be the media companies themselves, since the problems are rooted in competitiveness in the profession to obtain the best news to satisfy employers.
“After all, people will listen to who pays them the most,” he said, “[But] to me, media organisations can actually manage little to nothing on the issue.”
The coverage of Por’s death has become a challenge for the media industry in terms of ethics. Remarks such as T’s were raised in a recent meeting of five media organisations – the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA), the National Press Council of Thailand, the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand (NBCT) and the Society Online News Providers.
The meeting was convened to try and find a solution to these types of incidents.
Banyong Suwanpong, a TJA and TBJA ethics committee member, attended the meeting and said the five organisations agreed to gather and implement recommendations to prevent the public from having a crisis of faith regarding the media.
The organisations are expected to issue a code of conduct on Thai Journalists Day on March 5, Banyong said, in a bid to standardise guidelines for all registered media companies.
However, Banyong admitted that journalists in the entertainment and tabloid fields were not members of Thailand’s media organisations. Still, the media veteran remained positive.
“We cannot order anyone to join us, but we can publicise codes of conduct and society will be aware of them,” he said, explaining that the move will enable the public to better gauge how moral media organisations really are.
“To achieve successful media self-regulation, we need pressure from the social side also,” he said. “This is vice-versa. If the social mindset is more strengthened, maybe we could see better production from the media industry.”
In a bid to enhance media regulations, Banyong believes that self-regulation can be backed by the enactment of a law so there is a legal definition of what constitutes being a member of the media. He said the law would not be designed to punish anyone but instead would be a promotional tool as the media needs room to develop.
Banyong believes that media members must not only act responsibly by adhering to their professional pledges. He said one of the steps to achieve the ideal outcome was to create official courses managed by media organisations to certify editors so they were better placed to approve content ethically.
In relation to such a certification becoming mandatory for all registered editors, Banyong admitted that it was merely an idea at this stage and that there was a lack of funds to conduct nationwide research on the matter.
Mana Treelayapewat, dean of the University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce’s School of Communication Arts, agreed with the concept of media self-regulation. He believes that each media organisation should be monitored by an ombudsman, consisting of media insiders and observers, that sets rules especially regarding ethics.
Like Banyong, Mana agreed that civil society played a big part in regulating media, for example by preventing the media from infringing on the rights of others. There should also be government support to improve media ethics in the form of a broadly-written law, he said.
To strengthen society’s capability as a media watchdog, he stressed that media literacy should be included in course syllabuses to provide a solid foundation for social awareness on the matter. He said he was pushing that agenda in terms of education.
Pirongrong Ramasoota, a Chulalongkorn University lecturer in communication arts, believes that the government still needs to regulate media content on sensitive issues such as those that refer to young people or possible threats to national security. The media should then regulate themselves regarding the rest of their content, she said. Pirongrong has observed that only the traditional media, namely newspapers and radio and television stations, have shown progress building regulations governing ethics.
But regarding alternative media, she said that some online-based tabloids and local radio and TV stations appeared to group together, mainly to increase their bargaining power particularly when dealing with the NBTC.
Concerning popular figures in social media like Jar Pichit of “Drama Addict”, the academic sees a rosier picture.
 “The younger generation on social media tends to be aware or responsible when dealing with content,” she said, implying this is a case of effective self-regulation.
Uajit Virojtrairatt, chairwoman of watchdog Media Monitor, doubts that self-regulation can ever be effective in light of past lessons. Uajit said the most effective way to improve media standards would be joint regulation by the media and government authorities, such as a cooperative effort by the NBTC and media consumer groups.
She said that while the authorities can provide strict guidelines for the media to follow, consumer groups should supply feedback including suggestions about how to improve the situation. If they work effectively together, co-regulation should standardise responsible behaviour within the media arena, she added.
Uajit however admitted that this was merely a proposal at this point. And she conceded that implementation was a long way off given what she described as media consumer groups’ lack of activity along with the NBTC’s passive approach regarding media ethics regulations.
“We are also challenged by the fact that many media organisations compete against each other based on quantitative measurements. For instance, how fast they can deliver news,” she said. “And I understand that everyone wants to survive.”
Wasan Paileeklee, a former member of the now-defunct National Reform Council (NRC)’s media reform committee, agreed that a balance was needed to achieve successful self-regulation, and a degree of legislation was essential.
Having written a draft on media regulations during his term on the NRC, Wasan said the law was not designed to give orders to media organisations but to support self-regulation.
He believes that a central body featuring key media figures is essential to successfully regulate the industry. The NRC law would support self-regulation and increase responsible media practices, he said.
The draft of the law was approved by a NRC vote before being proposed to the Cabinet, he said, adding that no more progress had been made on the matter.

Published : February 09, 2016

By : Wasamon Audjarint The Nation