Journalists must re-examine their own prejudices

When we, the mass media, are at work, we must constantly find ways to prevent editorial interference from the state and the industry. But there is one far more dangerous interference which the mass media do not like to talk about. This meddling does not come from the government or the industry. This most dangerous interference in the media profession is our own prejudices, particularly political prejudice.

Yellow- and red-shirt supporters throw objects at each other and trade blows in a clash outside the Crime Suppression Division office on Phahon Yothin Road. By taking sides, the mass media is blamed for aggravating political divisiveness and losing professionalism. SURAPOL PROMSAKA NA SAKOLNAKORN

We know when the government tries to interfere with our work because the moves are clear to us all. The same with the industry. But political prejudice is within our hearts. We can put up walls to protect ourselves from outsiders. We tell each other we can protect ourselves from interference from the government and money power. But when we work, many of us are defeated by our own prejudice. Ideals in the journalistic profession no longer matter. What matters is what side you are on, what side you have chosen to sympathise with.

In the past five years of political divisiveness, I believe a sizeable number of journalists have become dominated by their own political prejudice. By fear, in particular. We are so fearful of a particular person that we allow ourselves to stray from the path. Our hatred for a person, many persons, or some groups of people is so fierce that we allow ourselves to do wrong. It is the hatred and the love that has made us choose sides. It has made the media heavily biased.

This war is not happening outside us. It is within ourselves. This war is happening in our hearts and minds. Some have announced that it is no longer possible for the media to stay neutral, that we now have to take sides. This only shows that you have a war within yourselves, that you have won or lost the battle.

When we have turned someone or some groups into a demon - either the prai turning the ammart into the demon or vice versa - we cannot deny that we have simultaneously created the hatred demon in our hearts. When we began to see the other side as an evil which must be eradicated, that evil is nowhere but in our hearts.

If you watch the last episode of Harry Potter, you will know what I mean. The Dark Lord whose name cannot be mentioned is nowhere but in Harry Potter's heart. There is no point in blaming others, be they the industry, government, military, or other media camps. The demon is our own prejudice. This is the problem we face in our work.

We like to say that we, the media, are politically neutral and doing our work without fear or favour. We like to blame the state, the military and what not, but we forget to look at ourselves, and at the battle in our minds. It is our prejudice that has spread hatred to people across the political spectrum, to every colour in the political camps. If we cannot overcome our own prejudice, media professionals will become more vulnerable to interference from the government and industry.

Often, no one interferes with our work or editorial judgement. Rather, it is the deep belief that we are on the side of right that has driven us to take sides.

Let me ask how this fierce hatred in society has come about. Did it emerge from nowhere? Husbands and wives are caught in bitter quarrels because they favour different "colours". Would they have come to this point had not they watched different TV channels, read different newspapers, listened to different speakers, until they share different beliefs? This is happening because of the media.

I am not blaming you or saying I am a better journalist. All of us in the mass media have the important responsibility of coping with the political crisis we now face.

It is time we in the mass media took an honest look at ourselves. We must ask how we can transcend our prejudice, and what tools we can use to handle our biases. The mass media must prove its professionalism. I don't expect the mass media to be as accurate as a clock. But you must be fair to people who have different views from yours. You must give them air time on your channels, for example. You must be balanced.

If you want to argue, do so with reason, not by making false allegations. The media must prove its point through reason, not by resorting to allegations. If you are still doing this, then you are not being fair. When unfairness prevails, no one listens to anybody. Hence the political crisis.

Excerpts from Pinyo Trisuriyadhamma's speech on press freedom challenges in 2011. He is executive editor of Open Books Publishing House and moderator of the popular political talk show "Tob Jote". The last instalment of a talk series on the monarchy was banned by TPBS last Friday.

About the author

Writer: Pinyo Trisuriyadhamma