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Political troubles made 2010 a difficult year for media, according to journalists' group

(TJA/IFEX) - 5 January 2010 - It was another year of difficulty for local media as a result of divisive ideas and ideology that led to the use of violence. The local media was held hostage to and was under pressure from conflicting parties.

It was another year that the media was questioned over its sense of justice and impartiality, and whom it served - the public or any interested party - as quite a number of people maintained the view that the media played a part in escalating the political conflict. It was also a year in which the media faced a great challenge in committing itself to the principles of professional journalism - comprehensiveness and fair allocation of space to all conflicting parties.

As such, the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) has summarized the key media trends in 2010 as follows:

1. Freedom to Report with Responsibility

Working under pressure caused by the protest rallies staged by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and the Center for Resolution of Emergency Situation (CRES), which was set up by the government to control the situation, the media faced limitations in its attempts to provide accurate reporting. For example, the lack of trust from the Red Shirt movement leaders at times triggered conflicts and friction between the protesters and media workers, preventing the latter from performing their duties.

2. Media Safety and Mental Remedy

The lack of trust and the mutual suspicion between the Red Shirts and the journalists resulted in the serious need for safety as media workers went about their work. For the fist time in the history of Thai media, media workers had to wear safety protection gear as they covered the political conflict. Nonetheless, the violent dispersal of the protest eventually claimed the lives of a number of local and foreign journalists and injured many of them. The events left many of them traumatized. A number of media workers who covered the Red Shirt and government clashes still suffer from psychological trauma and need proper medical treatment.

3. Maintaining Media Professionalism amid Violence

The unexpected turn of the violent protest rally and its dispersal caught media workers off guard, resulting in a lack of comprehensiveness in their reporting. It is vital that the local media have proper safety and professional training to prepare for the coverage of future conflict situations.

4. Curtailment of Media Freedom

In view of the duty of the media in a conflict situation, TJA reaffirms the principle of media freedom and frowns upon all forms of attempts to stifle the media. At the same time, TJA calls upon all media outlets to uphold social responsibility. While TJA supports legal actions against media outlets which commit illegal actions, it disagrees with the use of illegal means to limit freedom of expression.

5. Political Media and State Media Play a Part in Fuelling Conflicts

The past year saw a sharp growth in the number of media outlets - whether community radio, satellite television or websites - that have an outright political agenda, that of battling opposing political views. These media outlets tended to present their audiences with more opinions rather than facts, thereby instigating conflicts, rifts and hatred which led to anger against anyone harboring an opposite view. On the other hand, the State interfered - directly or indirectly - with State media outlets, resulting in the 'sanitization' of news and information in various forms. This is in addition to the lack of clarity and due process in the State's censorship of online media.

Given the aforementioned developments, the TJA concludes that 2010 has been a difficult year for local media. The media, therefore, should adjust to and better prepare for future conflict situations in order to be able to do their jobs in accordance with the principles of comprehensiveness and impartiality and professional ethics.

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