Manusya, Journal of Humanities


Duncan McCargo

Publication Date



The Thai language press perfonns an important political role. At salient junctures, such as the May 1992 protests against the Suchinda government, or the May 1995 no-confidence debate which brought down the Chuan government, the media can play an important role in infonning the public about political developments, or in tipping the balance of popular opinion. On occasion (as in May 1992), this role may correspond closely with that of an advocate of the public interest. At other times (as in May 1995), it may more reflect the partisan interests of elements of the press themselves. Hence the media is an essentially unreliable and fickle political actor. An unpredictable 'trickster'. The unreliability of the Thai press is deeply rooted in its history, organisational culture, newsgathering system, and working practices. It reflects the origins of newspapers in Thailand; the press has long functioned as a political space in which different elite groups have sought to advance their interests and views. The restrictions on open expression which existed during the period of absolute monarchy were continued during later periods of authoritarian and military rule, especially during the Cold War. The press was not concerned with presenting factual accounts of events; still less it interested in offering systematic explanations and analyses of developments. On the contrary, the press was often dedicated to obfuscation, mystification, and the sowing of confusion. The core material of the press was neither facts nor analysis, but opinion. The existence of a politically powerful monarchy which was effectively off- limits for open discussion in the media served to reinforce the culture of rumour, and undennined any serious analysis of the Thai order. This does not mean, however, that the press was supine and uncritical. Far from it, Thai newspapers often were aggressive and outspoken, hiding their lack of substantive critical bite behind a noisy façade of vociferous bark.

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