An open letter to Thai Media
(Translated from a Malay article : Surat terbuka kepada media Thai )
By Abu Hafez Al-Hakim
The major influence a media has in a society is undeniable. Its role is not just to deliver news and information to the public but also to influence the views or attitude of the society, through reporting and writing. Thus journalists are considered to be agents of change in a society.
In the context of political conflict in the South (Patani) the main-stream Thai media has long been responsible for propagation of news and information . We, the freedom fighters of Patani, view the general opinion and the way information and news being disseminated by Thai media and journalists as outdated . In spite of the rapid progress in the field of information technology nothing much has changed . The Thai media HAS NEVER or RARELY been fair to the Patani freedom movements in its reports. Since 50 years or so until now the situation has not improved.
In the Thai media, Patani freedom fighters are often negatively portrait as "Southern Villains or Terrorists " . This attitude reflects extreme prejudice and biased reporting. What is the justification to label persons who fight for the rights of their own people as such, only because they violently oppose Thai suppression ? If that is the case, King Naresuan and the King Taksin could also be called terrorists because they also rose up ,using violence, against the Burmese occupation of Ayutthaya in the past.
When the late Tuan Guru Haji Sulong submitted his infamous 7 petitions in 1953 , not only was he arrested and imprisoned on “revolt” charge , but was also eventually murdered . Against whom did he revolt ? Was his intention to topple the regime in Bangkok or just simply to demand rights and justice for the Malay Muslims in the South? This unjust Label remains until today and continues to be propagated by certain media in Thailand , disregarding the sensitivity of the people of Patani Muslims who revere him as a great ‘Ulama’( religious scholar).
The freedom fighters groups are also called "Separatist Movements ". It is important to stress here that all Patani freedom fighters groups are LIBERATION MOVEMENTS, not SEPARATISTS. By political science definition there is a great difference between a liberation movement and a separatist movement. All those labels or terms were intentionally created by the Thai Government to paint negative picture of the fighters. Unfortunately, the Thai media blindly adopted the label without profound consideration nor objective research of the fighters' true intention , thus putting them in a disadvantage position in the eyes of Thai general public and world community.
The main principle of journalism states that : "The main task of a journalist is to report the truth and to respect the rights of people to obtain the correct information." Apparently in the context of Patani reporting , it is not so. Thai journalists are often seen tagging the security forces , or government personnel to a location for news coverage. This is sufficient for general public to view them as "government people" and therefore become uncooperative and denied them vital and accurate information they badly need. With language barrier , unprofessional attitude and laziness , they are easily satisfied with the "second-hand" information readily provided and “spoon-fed “ by the security forces. Thus many news reports are seen concluding typically in a “stereotype “ manner : the authorities are still investigating the incident, believed to be carried out by the Southern terrorists from the area.
Perhaps they have forgotten about this another principle: To seek out and disseminate competing perspectives without being unduly influenced by those who would use their power or position counter to the public interest, that is to find and present different views without being influenced by those who abuse power or office contrary to the interest of people in this area. In carrying out his duties, a journalist believes in freedom to gather information and publish his reports honestly and reserves the right to make fair reviews and criticism.
Thai media also rarely provides space and opportunity for the freedom fighters to voice their opinion or to communicate with the general public throughout Thailand, to address some important issues . Perhaps they would be thinking : why must they give space and coverage to villains and terrorists ? Until now the general Thai public are still wondering : Why are the Malays in the South resisting the Government? Why resort to violence ? Why do they want to secede from Thailand? Why are there bomb explosions everywhere, involving not only the armed forces but also the public lives and properties ? Why are teachers being targeted ? ...and so on.
Another important Principle of Journalism is “To give voice to the voiceless; document the unseen” . It urges the media to open space and opportunity for those who are oppressed to highlight and make their voice heard. The Thai media is expected to document things that are intentionally “hidden” by the authorities , so that the truth will be investigated and exposed . Otherwise the Thai general public will forever be denied true information and the Malay Patani people , particularly the freedom fighters, will continue to be regarded as villains, rebels or worse as terrorists, while in reality they struggle to restore their deprived rights.
The situation is however different with foreign journalists and media. They are very professional, with a proactive approach and produce unbiased reports. They do not expect information to be fed, but work hard to extract information by adopting the "Engaging the community" approach. Though they also face constraints of language and culture like their Thai counterparts, but the professionalism and ethics they strongly adhere to in journalism, provides them easy access to information from reliable and original source (authentic). The Patani Malays , especially villagers, are more comfortable with foreign journalists compared to Thai journalists.
That's why we find news reports and information posted by foreign media are much better and more trustworthy compared to the Thai media. Sometimes there are great differences of facts and information between both or even contradicting to those reported in the Thai media. A considerable number of people throughout the world, as well as over 300 millions of Malays of the Nusantara now have a better understanding of Patani people's suffering, plight and their struggle , in comparison to 60 million Thai people who have yet to understand the true nature of the conflict in the South.
Another important issue in Thai media reporting is HISTORICAL FACTS. In the context of the history of Patani, beginning from the era of Langkasuka Empire to the present day, Thai media are more likely to adhere fanatically to the historical version that is written by their own people . The position and relationship of nation-states in the past, particularly the Patani-Siamese political conflict, is only seen from the Thai historical point of view. This resulted in wrong assumption that Patani and the Northern States of Malaysia (Kelantan, Kedah, Terengganu and Perlis) were initially owned by Siam. Thai history claims that some territories that are now part of the neighboring countries such as Laos, Malaysia, Khmer and Myanmar were originally theirs. On the contrary if we refer to the histories of the countries involved we will find that they also claim that all the mentioned areas were historically theirs but subjected to Thai domination and expansion during certain periods.
If we study the records written by foreign historians and travelers who had had contact with Patani in the past such as the Chinese, the Japanese, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the English and the Arabs, we will discover detailed records that are very much different to the ones written by the Thais. These facts are often ignored and overlooked by Thai media.
Thai media has always labeled the Patani freedom fighter as bandits, villains, separatists, rebels or terrorists . Since the Patani Malays did not have proper channels to voice their opinions, the feelings of dissatisfaction remained unheard for years. Ironically, when the Patani freedom fighters call the Thais “PENJAJAH” (colonialist), they turn surprised and angry . Then we find the Thai media begin to exploit the issue in their news reports, adding more fuel to the fire. They find it hard to accept the fact that they were also a " colonial" power, or conquerer in the region. The history of the people in the Malay world of Nusantara has, without doubt, regarded Siam as one of the colonialist along-side with the European powers of the previous centuries.
The Kuala Lumpur peace initiative through the General Consensus on Peace Dialogue Process dated 28 February 2013 gave a new and acceptable recognition to the fighters. They are no longer considered as villains nor terrorists but as "people who have different opinion and ideologies from the (Thai) State " Almost all of the world's leading foreign media pay serious attention and are optimistic for the success of the process towards peace. Some Thai media ,on the other hand, not only turn a cold shoulder to the peace process, disregarding their own government's effort for a peaceful solution, posing a lot of questions discrediting the process , they go as far as turning themselves into a bunch of anti-peace group, or peace spoilers. If they do not want this conflict be settled by peaceful means, are there any other alternatives ? Or does the Thai media share the same sentiment with certain parties who prefer to see the situation as status quo, where unrest and instability rules the day, resulting in countless casualties in lives and properties ? This is similar to the attitude of certain people, the opponent of peace ,who will lose influence and material gains from certain unlawful dealings in the event of peace. Is that their hidden agenda ?
Lately ,we find a small number of Thai journalists and media start opening their eyes and make an effort to seek the truth to present the general public. They no longer rely on biased " script" dictated to them by the authorities. They are independent , hard working, doing research and thorough investigation, at the same time engaging the community of different language, race and culture. What they get in return is people's trust who are ready to open their hearts for them, providing whatever information deemed necessary. For that reason we can now read several different reports from them ,including some video documentaries, about certain important events such as the "Tak Bai Tragedy" (rewritten) report, the death of Mat Rosol, the stand-off involving Ustaz Rahim or " Black Pele", and the latest shooting incidence at Paku, Thung Yang Deng District . All those writings create an alternative perspective and balanced news presentation and narratives for reporting in the South. Through this the voice and views of the fighters are heard. Unfortunately these journalists are cynically referred to as the "voice" of BRN.
Indeed, there is no other option for Thai media and journalists other than making a "Paradigm Shift" in their reporting career , uphold The Universal Principles of Journalism and the Guiding Principles for Journalists, without fear or favour. That is the only way people's voice will be heard , the truth will prevail ,and justice will be served. The Thai media and journalists will be respected for being trustworthy and reliable , not only by the local community, but the general public throughout Thailand and the world.
Vinegar and Honey - from outside the fence of Patani