Thesis title: 'Journalism and the path to peace in the south of Thailand' (Click here for the espace link)

Principal supervisorAssociate Professor Pradip Ninan Thomas

Associate supervisors: Associate Professor Folker Hanusch & Dr Zala Volcic

Thesis abstract:

This thesis focuses on the role of newspaper in relation to a specific ethnic conflict in the south of Thailand that was selected as a case study. There were four main objectives of this research. The first objective was to explore the news coverage of the violent conflict to find out how the conflict was covered by the Thai news media. The second was to examine the opinions and attitudes of relevant stakeholders in the journalism profession about the Thai news media’s performance and roles in covering news about the conflict. The third was to examine the effect of social, political and economic factors on the role of the news media. And the fourth objective was to elaborate a normative way for journalists to cover the violent news in the Thai context. This research adopted the pragmatism paradigm to set the study approach and used it as a framework to understand and analyse the results from all of the research methods used.

In concert with the pragmatism paradigm, this research employed a mixed-methods approach. There are three methods used in the study: content analysis, in-depth interviews and participant observations. The content analysis involved 316 news and non-news articles about the violent events in southern Thailand from six major newspapers. These articles were selected from the whole population of 1,521 articles published during 2008. The sampled newspapers represented three main targeted audiences: two quality, two popular and two English-language newspapers. Galtung’s peace journalism model was adapted into the construction of the coding sheet in this study as the framework of analysis. The 23 in-depth interviews were conducted with four different groups: (1) editors and news chiefs, (2) journalists, (3) academics and (4) community leaders. Participant observation was a supplementary method to this study. There were two types of observation settings: the newsroom and newsroom meetings, and the news gathering process in the conflict area.

The findings of content analysis revealed that the newspapers tended to report “what” had happened and the “visible effects” of the violence, rather than the “invisible and cultural” effects. The traditional news values and reporting style that place emphasis on timeliness and obvious impacts were the causes of the lack of depth in the reportage. In terms of language, emotive, demonising and victimising words were frequently used in the news. In a comparative analysis, the vernacular newspapers reported the events in “emotionalised” and “dramatised” ways, while the English-language papers used a more neutral tone. However, both types of newspapers relied mainly on official and government sources for news.

The in-depth interviews captured criticism of journalists’ roles and suggestions for how to develop a practice of peace journalism in Thailand. Self-censorship of the media was seen by the academics as a reflection of national ideology and was seen by the media professionals as away to avoid the complexities of the violence. Traditional news values (such as impacts, the unusual, conflict and timeliness) were also important concerns for Thai journalism because they meant that the news emphasised and amplified the more violent aspects. There was a consensus that the constraints inside and outside a newsroom affected the work practices of journalists. The findings from the participant observation revealed some of the roots of the problems and concerns found in the content analysis and the in-depth interviews. For example, local journalists and stringers from the conflict area sometimes were acting simultaneously in two roles: as media professionals and local people. Subjectivity and emotional reactions are always involved in journalists’ decisions about what news to report and when to report it. The observations in the newsroom revealed that the routine working style of newspaper editorial staff is to follow the traditional newsworthiness assessment.

A number of concerns were identified that might make developing peace journalism in the Thai context problematic. This thesis addresses these concerns and proposes afour-point model of peace journalism practice for Thai journalists. The first recommendation is that closer networks be established between local and national level journalists and that all journalists develop closer networks with civil groups and academics. The second recommendation is that each newspaper establishes a ‘conflict and crisis’ news desk with specific policies. The third recommendation is that a new ‘frame of practice’ of news selection and newsworthiness be developed because the traditional newsworthiness assessment is a significant factor causing the violent news to become war reporting rather than peace reporting. The final recommendation is that the study of peace and conflict journalism be introduced in journalism schools to address the fundamental need for the development of a new generation of conflict-sensitive journalists.

Life after graduation:

Dr Changkamol is an assistant professor in the area of communication at the Faculty of Communication Sciences, Prince of Songkla University, Thailand. She is now also acting as a dean of the faculty.

Dr Changkamol is seen as one of key academia on peace journalism in Thailand who has produced and disseminated numerous research and articles on the issues especially about the role of journalism on the insurgency in the country’s southernmost region.