An open letter to Thai media

Abu Hafez Al-Hakim's picture


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 view  the  general opinion and the way  information and news being disseminated  by  Thai media  and  journalists as outdated .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.


With regards.

 Vinegar and Honey - from outside the fence of Patani

 Muharram/November 2013