By KITTIPONG THAVEVONG
Colleagues and staff praised him as a visionary leader, a teacher, an inspiration and an outstanding example for media people.
Having been in the industry since the age of 21, Suthichai, now 71, said at his farewell party yesterday that he was proud of the high standards and ethical values followed by NMG.
During his speech, he held up a little book titled “The Nation Way”, which outlines the code of conduct for NMG’s editorial staff, while stressing that the determination to abide by the self-imposed rules has won public faith for the “Nation brand”.
“We are honest in doing our duty and we do our duty like professionals,” he said.
Suthichai, who co-founded The Nation newspaper, and is also a former NMG chairman, said he believed that compliance with ethical values and high standards in performing duties would be the key in helping media people survive the current digital disruption.
For almost five decades, Suthichai has expressed his opinions regularly through his newspaper columns. He has also been active in conducting daily Facebook Live interviews with experts and celebrities on various issues.
Suthichai, who is a member of the government-appointed media reform committee, said that after his retirement from NMG he would write a book about “lessons from the past”, which would help journalists in the digital media age adapt to the changing consumer demands.
Also, he would focus on social work and find ways to improve the work and quality of the media at a time when the main goal is retaining audience ratings.
“I am afraid that if we continue to focus on ratings, in the next three to five years we may not see the media as it is today,” he warned.
At the farewell party held at the Nation University building, Suthichai was mobbed by colleagues, Nation alumni and well-wishers who posed for photographs with him.
Suthichai’s younger brother Thepchai Yong, the chief executive of the NMG, told the huge crowd at yesterday’s farewell party that Suthichai had been an inspiration to his colleagues by serving as a good example.
He said that under Suthichai’s leadership, The Nation had boldly challenged military dictatorships and authoritarian civilian rule.
He pointed out many Suthichai “firsts” in the Thai media industry. These included the first English-language newspaper wholly owned by Thais, the first daily business newspaper (Krungthep Turakij), the first public television iTV, and the first non-government radio news programme.
Pana Janviroj, The Nation’s president, said at the farewell party that while US President Donald Trump’s motto is “America first”, Suthichai’s has been “Thailand’s press freedom first”.
He noted that under Suthichai’s leadership, The Nation had spearheaded the campaign to abolish a post-coup order restricting media freedom. He was also behind the formation of the National Press Council.
Also, Suthichai co-founded Asia News Network, an alliance of the continent’s leading media groups that began with seven members and now boasts a membership of 24 media outlets from 20 countries.
Political News Editor Somroutai Sapsomboon said that over the past 24 years working at NMG, she had learned a lot about media professionalism while associating closely with Suthichai when she co-hosted the “Emergency Newsroom” TV programme with the veteran journalist.
“What I learnt from Khun Suthichai is that, ‘Don’t think that what you do is already perfect. If you think so, you will not learn anything. You have to find out what mistakes you made today so that you will do better tomorrow’,” she said.
Somroutai added that she always regarded Suthichai as an exemplary journalist who has never stopped improving himself.
Nation TV reporter Tanpisit Lerdbamrungchai, who was one of Suthichai’s students at Nation University, said that “Ajahn Suthichai” taught very little about covering news in his class.
“He sent the students to different Nation Group newsrooms so they could learn on the job. I was sent to The Nation’s editorial section, where I started covering news for the first time in my life,” he said.
Suthichai began his journalistic career at the Bangkok Post in 1968, where he worked as a proofreader. At that time, he was also studying communication arts at Chulalongkorn University but later had to drop out because his work hours did not permit him to attend classes.
He became an assistant news chief at the English-language newspaper and later was promoted as its local news editor, despite his young age and lack of a diploma.
On July 1, 1971, after the Bangkok Post took over the other English-language daily in what Suthichai perceived as a move to monopolise the market, he joined his journalist allies in setting up the country’s first English-language newspaper to be wholly owned by Thais. It was called The Voice of The Nation, which would later be known as The Nation Review five years later, and The Nation now.