BBC vows to 'suit Thai laws, culture'

BBC vows to 'suit Thai laws, culture'

Francesca Unsworth, director of the BBC World Service Group, deputy director of news and current affairs, says she is seeking 'a balanced operating environment'. (Photo via BBC)
Francesca Unsworth, director of the BBC World Service Group, deputy director of news and current affairs, says she is seeking 'a balanced operating environment'. (Photo via BBC)

The BBC is ready to move forward as a digital news content provider in Thailand and it is also ready to adjust its work culture to suit Thai laws and audiences, a BBC World Service executive says.

"We have to be mindful of local sensibility and local laws," Francesca Unsworth, director of the BBC World Service Group and the BBC's deputy director of news and current affairs, told the Bangkok Post.

"But we still need to serve all audiences in a way that we feel they are best served. We have to find a balanced operating environment."

Ms Unsworth was visiting Bangkok last week to meet a new batch of BBC Thai staff members recruited from late last year to early this year.

In July 2014, two months after the military coup, the British Broadcasting Corporation launched a fanpage on Facebook which attracted almost 1.8 million Likes. On Nov 16 last year its BBC Thai website was launched providing news content in the Thai language.

However, just a few weeks later, a controversial BBC Thai article was blocked by the Thai government.

During this visit, Ms Unsworth had a meeting with deputy government spokesman Werachon Sukhondhapatipak.

Lt Gen Werachon said he discussed the media work process and challenges in the region with Ms Unsworth and her team.

"We have seen lessons arising from incidents that prove sensitive for Thais or people in other countries in the region," Lt Gen Werachon said. "I think we can form common ground where we can work together.

"We now have communication channels through which [the BBC] can verify or check comments from the government so the stories will be balanced and well-rounded."

Ms Unsworth insisted the BBC team would stick to its strong editorial values to tell the truth accurately, impartially and reporting from all sides.

According to a source, BBC Thai is now one one of the top 20 language services of the BBC.

"It [Thai market] is important to us. It's a big country, it's a very vibrant country. It's a young country and they say the 21st Century belongs to Asia. So it is important for us to be in Asian markets," Ms Unsworth said.

On the content, she said BBC Thai will give Thai audiences a global perspective, will report local news and report Thailand to the rest of the world, while the BBC will also expand to offer services in more languages, from 28 to 40 languages around the globe.

"We are not here to compete with local providers. We get ourselves into most local markets as a secondary service," she said. "We know that countries such as Thailand already have very lively local media scenes in newspaper, broadcasting and increasingly in digital space."

During her trip to Thailand, Ms Unsworth and a colleague also met Thai academics at Chulalongkorn University to discuss the digitasation of global media. Challenges identified include audiences' shorter attention span, and finding a business model to generate income for the media.

She also spoke at a public forum at Thammasat University, stressing the importance of journalism and free speech in an increasingly authoritarian world.

"Today, far too many governments remain unwilling to change their views of media freedom, and want to bend us to their will," she said at the forum.

"They seem unable or unwilling or just too fearful of the consequences to want to change their ways.

"And it makes me realise why the work of journalists today, around the world, is so vital."

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