Monday, February 24, 2020

This shaky parliament gives the media a chance to shine

Jun 14. 2019
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By The Nation

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - In dangerous times, responsible journalism can guide the march towards democracy, avoiding stumbles backward to tyranny.

The new parliamentary opposition will need reporters’ help more than ever before. As matters stand, it’s already absent key political voices that could have been (and might still be eventually) crucial in swaying votes on proposed legislation. Gone for the moment are top guns from the Pheu Thai Party, the would-be spokesmen for disbanded Thai Raksa Chart and the Future Forward leaders whose immediate future is saddled with uncertainty.

The opposition is thus missing a lot of the firepower it needs to turn votes in Parliament, ensure transparency in the business of governing and make attempts to censure the ruling coalition.

It might be argued that truth is still the truth regardless of who tells it, but significant shifts in House debates have in the past been credited to star speakers, the respected politicians and gifted orators who catch the attention of media observers and any citizens watching on television. Newsrooms routinely monitor censure debates in their entirety, but ears prick up when a speaker known to be passionate and persuasive takes the microphone. For now their numbers are dwindled, some of the fieriest verbal warriors silenced. Think of Chalerm Yoobamrung, Sudarat Keyuraphan and Jaturon Chaisaeng.

So a fresh strategy seems essential, and it could well embrace the media, who will be given more pre-debate information than in the past. The weakened opposition will need all the help it can get, given that the most vital aspect of democracy is ensuring that powerful people can be made to toe the line and be brought to justice.

The Prayut Chan-o-cha government will of course be closely watched from all angles, lessening the opposition’s need for high-profile debaters. Meanwhile, between Future Forward’s rising-star status and the anticipation that generally accompanies any session’s inaugural debate, regardless of the subject matter, attention will be diverted. And the government’s slim majority, after all, puts it in graver danger than the opposition.

But the government will indeed be powerful, especially in waging information warfare. It falls to the media in such circumstances to scrupulously check all information no matter how difficult the task under current restrictions. Nor does the media’s duty end at helping the opposition monitor the government. The volatile political climate requires a disciplined, responsible and unbiased media. They will have to determine what is politically motivated or appears to be or is made to look like it is. It’s the media’s job to screen them all, question them, and report them as they truly are.

This information will be shared to the media “in confidence” from both sides of the political divide, but it will need intense screening and verification, belaying the instinct to rush to publication. If ideological reconciliation is the noble goal that we all share, with an eye to mutually benefiting from long-term national progress, issues have to be politically defused and the facts presented solely in the best interests of the ordinary man. 

We can also consider this as a prime opportunity for the mainstream media to display their inherent superiority to the more popular social media, which excel at propelling genuine wrongdoers to swift penalty in the online court of justice but just as eagerly condemn the innocent. 

The conventional media must counterbalance any and every attempt to convict without a fair weighing of the evidence. 

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