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How Foreigners Get News Within Thailand.

10/01/2014

How Foreigners Get News Within Thailand.

Particularly in today’s unsettled political climate in Thailand, with rumours and counter-rumours flying around by the minute, keeping abreast of the news is difficult but essential.

There are five principal means of obtaining information. None will provide a totally accurate commentary on what is going on. It is best to use a combination of all five and be cautious in accepting everything at face value.

1. The media; newsprint and television.

2. Blogs on the internet.

3. Internet forums.

4. Social media sites.

5 Personal contacts.

1. The media; newsprint and television.

Newspapers and periodicals are the usual initial choices for getting detailed knowledge about what is going on in a country. Articles from western newspapers can be downloaded on the internet or, with a delay, purchased from local newsagents. Some periodicals; for example, The Economist, occasionally do not publish every issue in Thailand if it contains sensitive information which could be censored or deemed illegal. Many foreign journalists are, therefore, careful what they print.

There are two main English language newspapers printed in Thailand: The Bangkok Post and The Nation. Both are Thai edited and are vigilant in not breaking any Thai laws of libel or lese majesté. Their articles are not always politically neutral.

There are several television channels in Thailand. Some are privately owned; others are partly or fully owned by the government or the army. Bias and censorship does appear to creep in.

2. Blogs on the Internet.

There are a number of individual blogs. Some are written from within Thailand, some are written from outside the country. Mattowensrees.wordpress.com covers most aspects of interest to western tourists, visitors, and expats. It tends to be anthropological in tone, concentrating on Thai lifestyle and culture. It reports rather than commenting from only one perspective.

A blog written by a former Fleet Street journalist, andrew-drummond.com, deals predominantly with expat matters and concerns. He lives in Thailand and has a reputation for taking a “terrier” like approach to investigating and following up issues involving expats. Leaving no stone unturned when he gets his teeth into a story. Some have criticised his sensationalist hard-hitting style when compare to articles written by others who tend to pussy foot around trying not to upset anyone with the truth.

New Mandala was a blog set up to provide information and encourage debate about S.E. Asia, particularly Thailand. Its two co-founders are certainly well qualified and published. The site is hosted by a university but it has no responsibility for it. Certainly, for an academic blog that should encourage balanced views and open debate it fails at the first hurdle. A number of bloggers have commented that many posts, however well sourced and presented, are censored. There appears to be a strong bias against certain Thai topics that they do not want questioned. Hardly a formula for rational and constructive debate. Drummond, by contrast, moderates posts but publishes fair views even if he may personally disagree with them.

You will note a great deal of flaming and character assassination on the New Mandala site. Even an innocuous post giving a list of academic authors on a particular subject of interest will generate a flow of vitriolic abuse. A cheap way to score points and not conducive to the original aims of the blog. It does not help that an ex-Reuters journalist with a vindictive and personal beef about Thailand gets away with monopolizing the board often with unsourced and purely anecdotal material.

I suggest you take a look at these particular blogs and decide for yourself how useful and accurate they can be. A good strategy is to read several blogs so that you can compare what they are each saying.

Some examples from Mandala:

“I wouldn’t say Mr. Marshall’s reporting is explosive, he just reads a couple of wikileaks, hears the talks around town, visit some pro-red Thai forums, that all Thais know for the past decade or two, and based his reports and his theory on it. Perhaps explosive for foreigners who are still stuck on the “democracy” page and don’t know much about Thai history and politics.”

“No they weren’t unreported, Andrew Marshall. Most of what you write is widely discussed amongst ordinary Red Shirts and others all over the country. Your claims to some kind of “unique ownership” of your theory is therefore completely false. And I’m utterly amazed you’d hang onto some ancient resentment because xxx didn’t like Thai Story. Wow. To be honest I didn’t think it was all that either – it was over-written, covered too much old ground and relied on anecdote and hearsay far too much to be considered definitive. You do some good work – just get off your exceptional high and pompous horse from time to time please.

3. Internet forums.

There are a number of English language forums that operate for Thailand. They are ideal places to get information on a wide range of Thai related themes and issues. You can link up with foreigners with similar interests or just use the sites for gossip and banter. Some posters use it only when they need a question answered; some spend the best part of the day online. Some can be helpful and knowledgeable; others take delight in flaming and getting personally vindictive.

My advice is to check them out. Firstly to see which one, if any, suits you and secondly as a learning experience to appreciate how some foreigners behave online in Thailand. The largest forum is Thaivisa. It has some extremely knowledgeable posters but a reputation for biased moderation if you post an opinion that goes against that moderator’s views. That really goes for the other smaller forums too. Teakdoor can bring out the worst in posters but the site rarely censors posts. Farangtalk is probably the most opinionated. Paknamweb is billed as family friendly but it tends to allow posts that show only the rosy side of Thailand. Its top poster is not even based in Thailand and the site has associations with Thai tourism that makes its comments a little biased.

To get a feel for foreigners in Thailand, it would be useful to surf these forums and make up your own mind. Use them for information gathering and check the opinions expressed against other forums and blogs.

4. Social media sites.

Many posters on Facebook use the social network to keep in touch with friends, acquaintances, and followers who comment on the day today happenings in Thailand. Twitter provides opinion and links to Thai related articles if you use a hash tag such as #Thailand or one appropriate to the topic that interests you.

5 Personal contacts.

Particularly on first arrival, foreigners usually head for the nearest expat club. They will meet fellow expats of different nationalities and it can be an effective means of building up your social circle. As a way of keeping up with the news and learning from the experiences of others, it can be a mixed bag.

You will certainly pick up some good tips which will help you navigate the frustrations you will encounter in living in a country with a non-western culture.

Nevertheless, you will need to sift carefully through recommendations and advice you receive by checking with a second source. Even old hands that have been here twenty years may not have had much contact with Thais and not understand how things are done in Thailand. Many have lived in moobaans, gated communities, or in condominiums surrounded by fellow western expats, since they first arrived. Many visit the bars regularly and have more contact with foreigners than Thais. They often just regurgitate whatever they have heard in the bar.

That is a particular dilemma for the tourist and first time visitor. The best guidance given is to be cautious and not believe the first thing you hear. Most of the expat clubs are run as commercial ventures and their advice may be biased towards their own commissions.

Thai businesses, in both the tourism industry and elsewhere, are there to make a profit of course. You may get better information and a fairer deal by talking to Thais instead of foreigners. Just don’t be taken in by too friendly an approach and always get a second quote or opinion.

Longer term, get to know the ordinary Thai. I’m not suggesting that’s easy. However, after building up mutual respect, you will learn a lot about the Thais and their country. Not only will you feel more comfortable in your daily dealings with Thais but also you will enjoy Thailand more.

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