Thailand Media and Publishing -
In the mid-1980s, the media played an important role as the principal source of
domestic and foreign news and, to a lesser degree, as a source of public
entertainment. All major daily newspapers were privately owned, but radio and
television stations were controlled by the government and operated as commercial
enterprises. Newspapers were generally regarded as more credible than the
government-controlled broadcast media.
Mass media were under the broad supervision of the Public Relations Department
in the Office of the Prime Minister. This department served as the principal
source of news and information about the government and its policies. It issued
daily news bulletins on domestic and foreign affairs for use by the print and
electronic media. News bulletins were also issued by other government agencies,
including the Thai News Agency, established in 1976 under the Mass
Communications Organization of Thailand, a state enterprise under the Office of
the Prime Minister. The Thai News Agency concentrated mostly on domestic
affairs; foreign news was gathered from international wire services, which
maintained offices or representatives in Bangkok.
The Constitution guarantees freedom of the press, which may not be curbed except
by law "for the purpose of maintaining the security of state or safeguarding the
liberties, dignity or reputation of other persons or maintaining public order or
good morals or preventing deterioration of the mind or health of the public."
Most observers agreed that the Thai press enjoyed considerable freedom.
Nevertheless, in the 1980s editorial writers and reporters continued to exercise
self-censorship, mindful that there were unwritten but real government
constraints, especially on coverage relating to the monarchy, government
affairs, internal security matters, and Thailand's international image. The
existing statutes gave broad powers to the director general of the Thailand
National Police Department, including the authority to revoke or suspend the
license of an offending publication. The severity of penalties varied, depending
on the political climate and the sensitivity of an issue. In 1987 a new press
bill was pending before the National Assembly, the intent of which was to give
the press as much autonomy as possible except in time of war or in a state of
emergency, in which case the press officer would be allowed to exercise
Daily newspapers were concentrated heavily in Bangkok, where at least 65 percent
of the adults read a daily paper, compared with about 10 percent in rural areas.
Newspapers were generally independent, and many were financially solvent,
deriving their income from sales and advertising. The government was forbidden
by law to subsidize private newspapers. Foreign ownership of newspapers was also
banned as a safeguard against undue foreign or subversive influence.
In the 1980s, Thai journalistic standards improved steadily, as reflected in the
print media's growing emphasis on political and economic issues, as well as on
major foreign news events. This could be attributed to the emergence of a more
discriminating readership. On the negative side, sensationalist coverage and
insufficient professional training continued to mar the reputation of the Thai
There were about 150 newspapers, including 30 dailies in Bangkok and 120
provincial papers in 1985. Some Bangkok dailies were considered to be national
newspapers because of their countrywide distribution. Most provincial papers
appeared every two, five, seven, or ten days. In Bangkok twenty-one dailies
appeared in Thai, six in Chinese, and three in English. Of an estimated daily
circulation of 1.6 million for all Bangkok dailies in 1985, Thai Rath (800,000
circulation) and the Daily News (400,000 circulation) together claimed about 75
percent of the total circulation. These two newspapers reportedly were popular
among white-collar groups. The most successful among the remaining newspapers
were Ban Muang, Matichon, Siam Rath, and Naew Na. The English-language dailies
were the Bangkok Post, The Nation, and the Bangkok World, which were popular
among the well-educated and influential members of Thai society and were
regarded by many as more reliable than the Thai dailies. Some of the editorial
positions on the Bangkok Post and the Bangkok World were held by foreigners,
mostly British; The Nation, on the other hand, was almost entirely staffed by
Thai and tended to view the world from a Thai perspective.
Unlike the English-language dailies, whose circulation was increasing in the
early 1980s, Chinese-language dailies were declining in readership. Their total
circulation was probably around 70,000. Two leading Chinese-language dailies
were Sing Sian Yit Pao and Tong Hua Yit Pao. These dailies were noted for
responsible coverage of domestic and international affairs, but they refrained
from taking strong stands on local political questions.
All aspects of radio and television broadcasting, such as operating hours,
content, programs, advertising, and technical requirements, were set by the
Broadcasting Directing Board, which was under the Office of the Prime Minister
and headed by a deputy prime minister. In 1987 the country had 275 national and
local radio stations. The Public Relations Department, under the Office of the
Prime Minister, was responsible for Radio Thailand and the National Broadcasting
Services of Thailand (NBT). NBT was the official government broadcasting
station, which transmitted local and international news mandatorily broadcast on
all stations. News was also broadcast daily in nine foreign languages over Radio
Thailand's World Service. Radio stations were run also as commercial enterprises
by such government agencies as the Mass Communications Organization of Thailand;
units of the army, the navy, and the air force; the police; the ministries of
communications and education; and several state universities. In 1985 there were
7.7 million radio sets in use.
As a major official channel of communication, all television stations avoided
controversial viewpoints and independent political comment in their programming.
The Army Signal Corps and the Mass Communications Organization of Thailand
directly operated television channels 5 and 9. Two other channels were operated
under license by private groups, the Bangkok Entertainment Company, which ran
Channel 3, and the Bangkok Television Company, in charge of Channel 7. Channel
11 was operated by the government primarily as an educational station.
By 1980 television had become the dominant news medium among urban Thai.
Household television set ownership (about 3.3 million sets in 1984) was as
widespread as radio in all urban areas of the country. As of 1984, television
exceeded radio ownership in the Center and South and was about even with radio
ownership in the North and the Northeast. Nine out of ten Bangkok households had
at least one television set. Ownership of color television was also widespread
among urban Thai in the South (58 percent), Bangkok (54 percent), the Northeast
(49 percent), the central plain (47 percent), and the North (43 percent).
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