Published on November 26, 2007
Looking over some 1,000 stories dating back to 2004 in 13 local newspapers, researcher Kulachada Chaipipat found the news media too often portrayed migrant workers as statistics, victims, criminals and vectors of disease, rather than human beings with lives and hopes and dreams.
Kulachada cited headlines such as "Fear aliens will take over flat building in Mahachai", "Ten thousand migrants raid police sports stadium", "Unlawful Burmese workers intercepted and arrested", "Foreign workers found dangerous", "Number one among diarrhoea cases", "Hunt for killer of six Burmese workers: Chumphon deputy police commissioner confirms murderer is not Thai", "Tsunami effects cause rise in crime", "Aliens losing jobs turn to thievery" and "Point to illegal migrants as a cause for people's panic".
Kulachada last week revealed the findings of a three-year project between 2004 and 2006 on local news-media coverage of migrants and mobile-population issues.
The forum was hosted by the Thai Journalists Association, the Migrant Working Group and the Canada South East Asia Regional HIV/Aids Program-me.
Most editors and reporters she interviewed, however, dismissed claims the news media itself played a role in creating and stereotyping negative images of foreign workers from Burma, she said.
"They said negative attitudes [towards migrant workers and neighbouring countries] already existed in society. It wasn't the media that placed such attitudes in society," Kulachada said. She spoke with 11 editors and reporters of eight newspapers.
However, she found many negative words were unnecessarily used in coverage to "separate" migrant workers from others. "For example, words like "unlawful", "dangerous" and also the word "migrant" had been repeatedly used to describe workers from Burma, Laos and Cambodia," she said.
Though agreeing that there are both positive and negative sides of migrant workers, editors saw them as more negative than positive.
Editors believe readers paid little attention to migrant workers; some of them said news media attention of their plight would upset readers, Kulachada said.
Editors said migrants should not be given equal space in newspapers. Most reports about migrants over the past three years were about government policy toward them in terms of national security and crackdowns on undocumented migrants.
Human rights are not considered in local reporting about migrants, Kulachada said, citing only 50 cases of human rights violations against migrant workers out of 1,189 stories she researched.
Publishing comments from those with negative attitudes towards immigrants was another issue that made reports unbalanced, she added.
Editors conceded, but defended reporters for, limited sources, saying they could not communicate in migrants' languages.
Speaking in Thai, a Cam-bodian worker Sia, spoke at the forum. She said her employer had raped a colleague.
"When learning she was pregnant, the employer called police to arrest her. The woman filed a petition to the Cambodian Embassy in Bangkok but failed," Sia said.
The woman was eventually paid two months' salary as compensation and was deported.
Sa, a Mon worker in Bang-kok, said she was forced to flee her male employer. "I worked as a nanny for his child and he called me to take care of the baby in his bedroom," said Sa, who has been working in Thailand for 12 years.
Most editors, however, believed human rights of migrant workers had improved, compared with a decade ago and before the government introduced registration, Kulachada said.
Some editors said the image of migrants had changed from abused to potential abusers of the system, she added.
The media sees reports as two sides of a coin that depends on readers' views, Kulachada said.