Beware the TRT apologist in 'objective' journalist's clothing
As a veteran news anchor, Chakraphan Yomchinda often prides himself on the "objective" way he reports the daily news on Army-run television channel 5. And if at times he appears to be more of a defender of the Thaksin administration than a journalist, his excuse is that he needs to provide some balance.
And what could be a more concrete display of Chakraphan's own brand of "professional neutrality" than his presentation of an interview he conducted with caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra during morning primetime for three days running? Of course, it is every decent journalist's dream to sit face-to-face with the premier for an exclusive interview. But the only problem with last week's interview is that Chakraphan never bothered to tell his audience that he is a member of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai Party and that he had served as one of its MPs.
When three leading media organisations launched a broadside at what they deemed "pseudo-media" recently, they probably didn't have people like Chakraphan in mind. They were apparently more concerned with the sudden proliferation of pro-Thaksin media outlets. While the sources of financing behind these media outlets - which include a weekly tabloid, cable channel and a website - remain a mystery, they are unambiguous about their agenda.
Editors and journalists working for these "pseudo-media" outlets make no qualms about their political partisanship. They openly crow about their pro-Thaksin stand and make it clear they regard all critics of the Thai Rak Thai leader as their enemies. It's no wonder then why the first edition of The Reporter, a weekly tabloid and an offshoot of the website by the same name, screamed on its front page "Kularb Kaew - 1,000 per cent Thai-owned" despite the findings of the Commerce Ministry's Business Development Department that suggest otherwise.
And it's also no surprise that the protagonist of MV1, a recently launched pro-Thaksin cable programme is none other Samak Sundaravej, one of the premier's staunchest supporters. Samak is known for his no-holds-barred attitude toward those calling for Thaksin's ouster.
While partisan journalism of this magnitude may have no parallel in recent Thai history, it shouldn't be a cause for panic. After all, isn't freedom of expression part and parcel of democracy to be enjoyed by people of any political stripe?
In fact, it's not people like Samak or those openly pushing the pro-Thaksin news agenda that should have us worried. It's journalists, or those in journalists' clothing, who publicly profess journalistic professionalism but practise the opposite that deserve scrutiny.
Despite his claims of professionalism, one hardly has the impression that Chakraphan of Channel 5 was doing his job as a journalist in the general sense when he interviewed Thaksin. At best, the interview programme sounded more like journalistic softball at work. At worst, it looked more like a chummy conversation between a political master and his disciple.
It's rather obvious that the only reason Chakraphan was welcomed into Government House for the interview was because Thaksin knew he could trust him - not as an interviewer but as an obedient party member. And Chakraphan surely didn't disappoint his political boss. Thaksin was spared all probing and embarrassing questions that any other professional journalist would definitely have raised.
In short, Chakraphan effectively turned his morning news programme into a forum for his boss to propagate his political message. But of course, Chakraphan isn't the only politician-cum-journalist who is manipulating the airwaves to fit the political agenda of the ruling party. Some are so adept that their audiences can't detect their hidden motives.
There are several other broadcast personalities who hide behind the mask of a journalist but use their airtime to sway public opinion in favour of the administration. There is obviously a double standard at work here. While journalists or anchormen who are seen as being sympathetic to the anti-Thaksin movement are often censored and sometimes taken off the air in the name of preserving objectivity, the management of TV and radio stations seem to have a high tolerance for those singing the government's praises.
One can't imagine any of the main TV stations airing a three-part interview with any of the leading figures in the anti-Thaksin movement. The sad thing is that broadcast journalists out in the field who still have some sense of professionalism have to play second fiddle to politically biased anchormen and news commentators.
And that's why self-censorship - the process of determining what is politically correct - applies only to journalists with critical minds.
Political interference has opened the way for Thaksin apologists to rule the airwaves. Those still pursuing serious journalism are gradually becoming a minority.
So who are more dangerous - the so-called pseudo media people who are open about their agenda, or the media personalities cloaked in journalistic righteousness who manipulate their audience's credulity to please the powers-that-be and advance their own careers at the same time? Whatever the answer, one thing is certain: it pays - and handsomely - to be a Thaksin apologist.