At the recent seminar on citizen journalism
hosted by the Heinrich Boll Foundation, the speakers were Nanta Benjalasirak
and Chuwas Rueksirisuk, editors from Prachatai and Chiang Mai University
Faculty of Law lecturer Assoc Prof Somchai Prichasilapakul.
The second in the series of 3 seminars hosted by the Heinrich Boll
Foundation during their 10th anniversary year was held August 28, with the
title, ‘Citizen Journalists: Social and Political Agenda-Setting Abilities
and Emerging Challenges’.
Invited speakers included two editors from the online alternative news
website Prachatai, Nanta Benjalasirak and Chuwas Rueksirisuk, with Chiang
Mai University Faculty of Law lecturer Assoc Prof Somchai Prichasilapakul.
The discussion was moderated by CMU’s Dr. Jiraporn Witayasakpan from the
Faculty of Mass Communication.
A lively discussion resulted, with the conclusion that Thai citizen
journalism as a whole needed to convince the general public and conventional
media representatives that its writers conform to journalistic ethics in
accuracy and research in order to become accepted as an alternative media
Citizen journalism, the alternative reportage by local writers of stories
previously ignored by the mainstream media, was initiated by dissatisfaction
with the direction of conventional journalism, and began with the birth of
the online blog.
According to the first speaker at the seminar, the Prachatai editor, Nanta
Benjalasirak, the phenomenon began in Thailand in 1997 when the new
constitution was established, with citizen journalists emerging from popular
organisations and NGOs countrywide. With increasing internet access
throughout the kingdom, the general public no longer needed to rely
exclusively on conventional media outlets, and were able to post their own
stories and opinions online.
In reply, Chuwas Rueksirisuk, also an editor at Prachatai, noted that, after
the 2006 coup, citizen journalism had expanded to include members of the
general public who considered that their rights, particularly in the
political sphere, were being compromised by the restrictions on conventional
media texts. Topics posted by citizen journalists included many which had
not been considered suitable for publication, thus challenging the
traditions of journalism as many citizen journalist articles were being
compiled from online blogs. Chuwas pointed out that one problem with this
development is that such reporters need to learn the requisite skills in
order to maximise their readership and get their message across.
Assoc Prof Somchai Prichasilapakul, a lecturer at CMU’s Faculty of Law,
stated that although he obtained news mainly from newspapers, he agreed that
Prachatai is an alternative news site which allows people the space for
communication. The question, however, is the amount of change such a
facility can bring, and whether its content can be disseminated amongst
mainstream outlets in order to reach a wider audience. At present, the
alternative media in Thailand does not have the capacity to start trends as
it does in the West, even although websites are attracting many former
readers of conventional newspapers. Somchai admitted that citizen journalism
represents free expression, but considered that, as people only read what
they want to, it has no power to set agendas due to its limited appeal.
Chuwas’s belief, however, is that citizen journalism in Thailand has great
potential, but needs the expansion of internet services to all levels of
society in order to progress and become a powerful tool. ‘The internet is
the future’, he said, adding that, ‘If it is to be a factor for social
change, people need to have skills as well as supporting mechanisms. But
this is not going to happen soon’.
According to Nanta, the alternative media, both on and offline, needs to
configure a method by which it can expand into diverse communities. Citizen
journalists, mainly local residents, do have ethics, but are perceived by
the mainstream media as unreliable. In reply, Somchai proposed that citizen
journalism does need to be branded with credibility, and that its
journalists should be trained to specialise in certain aspects of news, as
has, for example, the Itsara News Centre in the South, which has gained
credibility from its ethical and correct reportage of Deep South situations.