Social sanctions are key

The embezzlement charge against well-known TV news show host Sorayuth Suthassanachinda should not only prompt the media to set up more effective mechanisms to ensure ethical practices, but it should send a strong message to the media that the public will not accept unethical conduct.

  • Published: 11/10/2012 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

The National Anti-Corruption Commission has filed embezzlement charges against well-known TV show host Sorayuth Suthassanachinda and other staff of state-run media agency Mcot Plc. PATTARACHAI PREECHAPANICH

Last month, Sorayuth found himself in the news when the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC) ruled there was enough evidences to lay embezzlement charges against him and his staff. They are accused of conspiring to withhold 138 million baht in advertising revenue sharing from state-run media agency Mcot Plc.

Pramon Sutivong, chairman of the Anti-Corruption Network, has publicly encouraged leaders in the business sector to withhold advertising on all of Sorayuth's news programmes. Mr Pramon, a highly respected business figure, is chairman of Toyota Motor Thailand and an adviser to Siam Cement Group (SCG), Thailand's top industrial conglomerate.

It seems, however, that his call went unheard or at least unheeded. Other state enterprises and corporations still support Sorayuth's programmes, though some, such as PTT, the Government Housing Bank and the Government Savings Bank, are state enterprises.

Mr Pramon made his call at the public discussion entitled "Rai Som-Sorayuth", co-organised by the Anti-Corruption Network and the Isra Institute.

The embezzlement scandal should alert society and prompt media organisations to self-regulate more effectively, he said. He also called for Sorayuth and TV Channel 3 to take accountability.

"Although the legal proceeding are still not complete, Khun Sorayuth is a well-known media personality. When facing such a serious allegation, he should stop appearing on his TV shows temporarily while the court case continues," he said. "The TV channel he works for should also take social responsibility in this matter."

The Anti-Corruption Network has sent an open letter to BEC World Plc, the operator of TV Channel 3, urging it to take a clear stand. It has been three weeks since the anti-graft body ruled against Sorayuth on advertising revenue embezzlement, but he still appears on TV Channel 3 as if nothing happened.

Jade Donavanik, Dean of Siam University's Law School, is of the opinion that it will remain business as usual, since social sanctions in Thai society are still very weak, as are the mass media's self-regulation mechanisms.

Following media criticism, Sorayuth resigned as a member of the Thai Journalists Association (TJA). He was a member of the TJA when he was a news reporter with The Nation newspaper.

Since he is no longer a member, the TJA can do nothing about his case.

If society feels strongly against the embezzlement case, however, there will be strong social sanctions on all parties involved. If there is enough public outrage, Sorayuth will face social pressure to stop making TV appearances during the trial. This social sanction, Dr Jade said, can be even more effective than any legal punishment. Without public support, Sorayuth has no future.

"This is a far heavier sentence than the legal wranglings he has to face. If found guilty, however, he will have to face a prison term," Dr Jade said.

Regardless of the outcome of his embezzlement case, Sorayuth has also made a habit of violating the copyright of the print media by using its content for free. He is not alone.

The so-called "news story tellers" on the country's TV networks do not invest in news gathering, and freely use content from the mainstream print media. At most, they will credit the news sources. But they openly announce that they will not take responsibility if the borrowed news content is inaccurate.

These people who are using newspapers' content for free are making much more money than the original content producers. The news story tellers make hundreds of thousands of baht per minute on television, while print journalists and newspapers receive comparatively paltry financial returns.

Worse, the story tellers pass on the blame if and when inaccuracies occur.

"Khun Sorayuth is not the only person who exploits other people's work and passes the blame onto them. Is this fair?" Dr Jade said. He said he once proposed an idea to various print media outlets to join forces and sue several television news presenters over copyright violations and to demand revenue sharing to set a legal precedent.

That case did not go ahead, and unfortunately we have not seen strong social sanctions efforts against this latest embezzlement case yet. There have been only small ripples in the social media sphere, probably because society has become so numb to corruption that it is viewed as being normal practice.

Meanwhile, Sorayuth's news programme is earning TV Channel 3 more than one million baht a day. His company's contract with the TV station runs until the end of the year. This means Channel 3 can still make more than one billion baht from his news programme.

This amount of money is probably enough to make the executives at TV Channel 3 ignore the voices of anti-corruption networks and the media.

Sorayuth is, after all, a powerful media personality, and many people may still be fearful to speak out against him.

The Anti-Corruption Network comprises many business figures who have declared they would push anti-corruption onto the national agenda. Yet few have dared put their words into action.

Among the courageous ones are Toyota Motor Thailand and SCG. They have been daring enough to speak up and to consider social sanctions. Theirs is an important move that must be lauded.


Nattaya is Assistant News Editor, Bangkok Post.

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Writer: Nattaya Chetchotiros
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