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Bangkok, May 2010 Bangkok, May 2010
Perspectives on a Divided Thailand

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24 - Flying Blind

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  21 October 2015

Danny Unger
Affiliation:
Northern Illinois University
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Summary

Many Thais sympathetic to the government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva were angry about what they saw as distorted reporting of the conflict of April and May 2010 by the foreign press and, in particular, by international television networks. This disgruntlement often failed to register the idiosyncratic nature of reporting on the conflict by the Thai media itself, although Red Shirts criticized the Thai mainstream media's coverage as well. More generally, debates about how the mass media covered the crisis and what animated the Red Shirt movement were particularly prominent. Once there was a pause in Bangkok's political violence, mass media reform held a prominent place in the Abhisit government's reconciliation schemes. In this essay, I use an analysis of how these events were reported to speculate more broadly on Thai political reporting and how political information is handled in Thailand.

A central part of this story concerns the advent of new mass media outlets, new communications technologies, and the proliferation and polarization of voices that surely contribute to divergent perceptions and preferences among Thais today. Not all these issues are specific to Thailand. Clearly, changing communications technologies are having an impact on politics in many settings, including among followers of the insurgent Tea Party movement in the United States. There are reports from around the world that the blogosphere is pressuring the conventional media to produce its news more rapidly and with stronger judgements, even invective. The particular features of Thailand's information regime, however, can be explained neither simply in terms of technological changes nor by sweeping reference to state regulation and sham democracy.

Quality political information often has qualities of a public good. It can be invaluable to citizens, yet costly to acquire, and low-quality information often fares as well or better in media markets, reducing incentives to invest in the provision of the good stuff. Where quality political information is scarce, resource-poor citizens, lacking the means to ferret it out on their own, are penalized especially severely. It is likely that the scarcity of quality political information in Thailand impedes Thais intent on participating meaningfully in their country's politics. And, because Thais have only modest deliberative capacities (on which more below), once political division grows pronounced, as it is now, it may be unusually difficult to manage.

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Bangkok, May 2010
Perspectives on a Divided Thailand
, pp. 313 - 322
Publisher: ISEAS–Yusof Ishak Institute
Print publication year: 2012

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