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Media: Government Transparency And Accountability

Info: 5396 words (22 pages) Essay
Published: 4th May 2017 in Media

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The media plays significant roles in acting as a medium in transferring the information between the government and the public. The information that the public received have ability to influence the perception and the decision making of the public. The media and the government have dependent relationship. Each of them has an influence on each other. However, the media, especially newspaper and television, are outlets that are likely to be influenced, by either the government or private interests. The intervention on the media may prevent the freedom of expression provided by the democracy. These interventions can be counted as corruption. Corruption is one way to reflect government transparency and accountability.

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Introduction

It is obviously seen that nowadays the media plays a very important role in the development of the country. The development of the society, culture, economics, education, or politics are depending on the media since the media act as a major instrument in transferring the information between different people in the society. The media can have a strong influence to the people. What are written in the newspaper, what are shown on the television, or what are spoken through the radio can change the perception of the people.

During the time when Thailand was under the absolute monarchy system, media was a significant part that helped moving Thai society toward modernization. However, after Thailand changed to the democratic system, the freedom of expression of the media was emphasized. Democracy can prosper only in societies where information and ideas can flow freely.

The most accessible media in Thai society are newspaper and radio. However, the sources of media that are easy to capture by the government are the newspaper as well as the television. We will then focus on these two outlets in our study.

The print media, the earliest kind of media in Thai society, are limited to only small number of people in the early period. However, as time passed, the situation was changing. There were papers with criticisms about the ruling class and government officials, as well as papers that were provided with some entertainment features. The role of the press then changed from serving the ruling class, government officials and foreigners to providing information for common Thai people. The newspaper industry grew along with Thailand’s economic growth. However, Thailand’s economic crisis in 1997 was a time when newspaper industry was affected by the economic downturn.

When we look at the newspaper business in Thailand today, it is obviously seen that the newspaper business has constantly become more competitive. For the daily newspaper of Thai-language, the market shares are gained mostly by Thai Rath, accounted for 34per cent, and Daily News 19per cent. The two leading newspapers, Thai Rath and Daily News, are conservative in their political disposition. For the Business Daily Newspaper, Krungthep Thurakit is the dominant player, contributing for 85per cent of the maket share, while Puchadkarn and Post Today are taken for the other 15 per cen. For the English Daily papers, Bangkok Post and the Nation are the two players, taking about 55 per cent and 45 per cent of the market share respectively.

Still, there are political influences in the newspaper business. The government has ability to influence the news contents or to make adjustments that created the desirable situations for them. The politicians can directly give bribery or they can give something not in the form of money but in kind of gifts or other kind of influences.

For example, according to ‘Who Owns the Asian Media: Thailand Media Report’ By Ubonrat Siriyuvasak, during Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s second term in 2005, the Bangkok Post’s front-page report on an alleged crack on the runway of the new Suvarnabhumi airport. The time of the report was the time when the government was under the investigation by the Opposition Party about the corruption of the constructing of the new airport. After the published of this report, the news editor, Chadin Thepwan was forced to resign by the Bangkok Post.

This case showed that even though the government was not directly managed the newspaper or the news contents; it could do something to influence the business to be according to its way.

For the most-consumed media in Thailand, the television, 86 per cent of the Thai population watching TV on a daily basis. Previously, there are six television stations in Thailand which broadcast freely on air and nation-wide. Three of the channels: Channels 5, 9, and 11, were operated by State operators, while the other three: Channels 3, 7 and iTV are operated by private concessionaires. iTV or Independent Television, was launched in 1996 as the first television station that was not owned by the State. It seemed to provide independent and critical programs for the people as well as act as a voice of democracy. However, iTV is becoming more and more profit-oriented and after the economic crisis in 1997, the company faced massive debts and finally, Shin Corporation of Thaksin Shinawatra took over iTV in 2000 before the Thai Rak Thai Party won the election in January 2001.

Since the Thai Rak Thai and Thaksin’s Shin Corporation were related, during the election campaign, the news agenda and the contents were controlled by the new executive team. Journalists who went against such interference were fired. As a result, the pro-Thai Rak Thai news campaign was one factor that led the party to win in the election. A survey by the ABAC poll showed that television news coverage was overwhelmingly biased towards Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai government

However, iTV, who was not able to pay back high debts after the crisis, was forced to stop broadcasting, now has continued broadcasting again under the Thai PBS name. Moreover, Channel 9 has been changed to MODERN 9 under the Mass Communication Organization of Thailand (MCOT) regulation; Channel 11 to NBT and are under the Public Relations Department.

Since media are the powerful sources of information, many sectors, including both the private and the government, are trying to gain control of the media in order to manage the information sent to the public. Because the media has the ability to influence people as well as government, the government who depends on media by using media to get into the people, is the one who wish to take control, as we have seen in the previous examples.

Every day, the media reports political news, telling the current government movements and government actions that show people how the government is working to help develop the country and solve the problems. The credibility and the image of the government are then depended on the information and the pictures that the media send out to the people. The government, therefore, wants to limit the information and take control of the media so that only the good things are presented to the public. As a result, many media are under the government intervention.

From the measurement of transparency international; the global coalition against corruption website, it shows that the corruption perceptions index (CPI) of Thailand, according to the survey in 2009, is about 3.4 and is ranked on 84th from 180 countries around the world. Since the government intervention in media is associated with the corruption, Thailand who claims to be governed by democracy may not be able to say we are governed by complete democracy.

Thailand has been involved with the problem of corruption for long time ago, in the past people may not know terminology and its importance since the corruption might be embedded with Thai culture so that people get used to it or it was known in other names. The problem of corruption also relates to the administrative system of the country. From Sukhothai―the first era of Thailand―up to the present, Thailand has been ruling by various forms of administrative systems depending on the influences or situations at the time so that the forms of administrative system are different in each era.

We would like to talk about the administrative system in each era in order to make them as the basis for explaining corruption and how it came from.

In Sukhothai era, the beginning era of Thailand, the administrative system was in the form of ‘Father-Son’ or ‘Paternalistic’. King played a role as father while public played role as his children or family ruled in hierarchical pattern. It created good relationship among parties.

After Sukhothai era exhausted its power, Ayutthaya era was replaced. The administrative was changed from ‘Paternalistic’ to the ‘Divine Rights’ system. This system was distinguishingly characterized as states come into existence by God’s will, God chooses the rulers of the states, and the rulers are responsible only to God. Divine Rights system was derived from Hindu influence, this system is unlike Father-Son system as it separated the rulers and public leading to different classes and privileges; the public were under the control of the rulers. This form of administration gave King the absolute power causing the distance between King and public.

After very long period of powerful, Ayutthaya era was eventually fall. Thonburi era had been replaced, since King Taksin aimed to collect power to build the new kingdom, the administrative system was not different from Ayutthaya era. After Thonburi era, the current era, Rattanakosin era, has flourished instead.

For Rattanakosin era, we would like to divide the era into early and lately Rattanakosin because in the period of King Rama V, there was dramatically change in Thailand’s administrative system; the abolishment of slavery, the education support, and the idea of reformation in administrative system to democracy. However, the idea of reformation to democracy was not shown up in the period of King Rama V, the idea has been established in Thailand and public began to participate in the administration. So,the administrative system in the early Rattanakosin before period of King Rama V still be the same as in Ayutthaya era.

In the lately Rattanakosin era and after King Rama VII period, Thailand is governed by democracy up to the present.

The Constitution of Thailand have been giving the freedom of expression to individual and the press since Thai’s ruling system was changed from absolute monarchy to democracy for almost 78 years, however, there have always been criticisms about the degree of freedom of expression of Individual and the press in Thai society since it came to associate with the government. The media still has freedom, but now its freedom is decreasing as the government tries to put its hands in.

The objective of this study is to combine theoretical, empirical and other evidences in order to understand the relationships and their interactions among the media, the government and the public in Thailand. Understanding all these things will explain how media affect the transparency and the accountability of the Thai government.

The role that the government plays in the media and the role that the media plays in the government are being interested increasingly by the society in these recent days. Therefore, as part of the Thai society, we would like to focus on performance of the media and government, particularly the effects from media on government accountability and transparency occurred within Thailand.

When government tries to control media, this can be considered as corruption, so, the corruption problems will be highlighted as they play role in indicating the transparency of the government. As corruption can be categorized into private-to-private corruption and public corruption, our concentration will be only on public corruption; according to the Legal Information Institute of Cornell University Law School, public corruption is defined as “a government official, whether elected, appointed or hired, may violate federal law when he/she asks, demands, solicits, accepts, or agrees to receive anything of value in return for being influenced in the performance of their official duties”, and the further use of word corruption refers to this. Corruption can be one indicator to point out government transparency and accountability as well as a degree of democracy. The study will include; the corruption in election since the incumbents intervene on the media in order to present themselves in a positive ways, the intervention of the government on media in sense of taking ownership and capturing the media such as television and newspaper. We will mainly focus on television and newspaper as the representatives of all kinds of media. Looking at the ownership of the television station and the newspaper outlet, these can point out the degree of government intervention and media capture since media have influence on government.

Still, our study has some comparisons in some particular parts with other countries in order to make our analysis more clearly.

Literature Review

Matias Warsta (2004) described the overall frameworks about corruption problem in Thailand, as well as the suggestions for solving the problems. This empirical literature argues that the problem of corruption has been in Thailand for a long time and also deeply rooted as a part of Thai culture. The corruption problem has a great impact on the economic growth of a country. Warsta (2004) pointed out the relationships among government, media, and public in the corruption problem. Government tries to use its power to control media to get its desirable outcome since media has ability to communicate as well as to influence the public which can affect their perceptions about the credibility and the image of government. There are many reasons for corruption shown in this literature. Corruption Perception Index (CPI) is referred as the measurement of perception of corruption ranked form 0 to 10 where 0 means a country seems totally corrupt and 10 means no corruption. As CPI 2009 shown, Thailand entitled to 84th rank on the list of 180 countries which is interpreted as equitably high. Free media is one of the characteristic of democracy which plays a significant role as the watchdog to ensure that things are performed in the democratic way. However, government and politicians tend to increasingly get into the media by buying shares of the media or granting the money to media. Thailand attempts to reduce the problem of corruption by using various methods, but this literature gave the suggestion that in the long run Thailand’s key to success to reduce this problem is to reduce the huge gap between the rich and the poor as this gap is the top of the corruption problem in Thailand.

Besley and Prat (2005) developed a baseline model suggesting that there is a possibility for the government to capture media and therefore influence political outcomes. The model states that the media plays role in providing information for the voters in the time election. The voters use the available information to make their voting decision. Besley and Prat (2005) show the relationship between media and political activities through the baseline model, which is a pure adverse selection model where the policy outcome is depended on the politician’s type; whether the politician is good, giving benefit to the voters, or bad, giving no benefit to the voters. The model is set up as a game, having two components, a bargaining game and an election game. The bargaining game between the media and the politician determines whether the media is an effective information provider or not, since the politicians have abilities to hide bad news by make an offer to the media outlets. Those who accept the offers suppress the signal about the bad politicians. When the media receives a transfer in exchange for silence, the media is captured. On the other hand, the media is independent. The model and its extensions give number of predictions on the relationship between features of the media industry, media capture as well as political outcomes.

John Zaller (1999) analyzes that the outcome of the media politics come from the goal-oriented and strategic behaviors. Zaller’s basic theoretical posture is that politicians, journalists, and citizens behave in ways that generally reflect individual goals and interests that in pursuing their various goals. He emphasizes the role of journalists, which the journalists have their own roles in acting as a voice of the politicians to communicate with voters. However, they can choose what to report. The journalists can add or reduce something before reporting in the news. The politicians also want the space about themselves in a good way in the news as well. This then create conflict between politicians and journalists for the control of the news. They are struggling to control news content within constraints set by the mass audience.

ARTICLE 19 (2005) described the background of Thailand in many aspects, the history of media in Thailand, the media situation. All these provide good fundamental understanding about the media in Thailand. The empirical literature suggested that for the media to protect their freedom of expression, it is necessary that the media should be permitted to operate independently without the control from the government. This necessity should be held when the media claimed to have freedom of expression to ensure that the media play role as the watchdog and also serve the public interests. This literature argued that, for people, to understand the media in Thailand, they have to go far beyond the understanding of their function as the communicator among participants in the society, they have to bear in mind that the media are the business associations who seek for the profits from their self-interest. The literature has categorized the media ownership into the state-owned media and the private media. There are statistical shown that television and radio are the most accessible media among Thai public. Freedom of expression is also supported by Ubonrat Siriyuvasak (2006). The empirical analysis criticizes the lack of freedom in the media business in the recent year. Ubonrat provides the statistical data about the ownerships of the media, including the state and private ownerships of the radio and television stations, as well as the ownership of the newspaper. This literature criticizes the aim to control the media by the government, especially in the time of Thaksin and his Thai Rak Thai government. Since during the Thaksin government, there were many changed took place including the change in media business, the paper then gives evidences of how the media outlet, especially, the newspaper and the television, were influenced by the government power. The question of who really own the media was emphasized by the author.

Chapter 3 Analysis

Since Thailand is governed under the democratic system, with democracy, it allows the equality, rights, and freedom to people in the society; people can enjoy all these things as long as they do not violate the others in the society. The provision of rights and freedom are in many aspects; freedom of expression is one of those aspects that relates to our paper. People in the democratic society can freely express what they think.

In some societies, an opposing and unfriendliness relationship between media and government represents a vital and healthy element of fully functioning democratic system. However, the media and government depend on each others. Sometimes the media overlaps other functional areas of democracy and governance.

Since the government nowadays can do some media managements or even can capture the media, the goal of media development should be to move the media from one that is directed or even controlled by government or private interests, to one that is more open and has a degree of editorial independence that serves the public interest.

Many different kinds of mass media can create transparency. But the dominant medium of political communication and hence the dominant medium of political transparency is television. When we use television to understand politics, we see things in the way that television allows us to see. Television can create new forms of political reality that exist because they are seen on television.

Television tends to emphasise entertainment value. People tend to interest in the entertaining things. The more entertaining news is more likely to survive in the broadcast world. Therefore, most television programs, public events, politics, and even law, are made to grab the attention of the viewers by entertaining them. They will launch the programs and present the news in the way that they think can catch the viewers. In the political news, television coverage of politics tends to focus less on substantive policy issues than on the other interesting news such as the inside stories about strategy and achieving political advantage. People tend to be interested on the issue of who the winner is and how they achieve their victory. These kinds of news tend to dominate in the television.

Since the media, especially the television can portray the political issues in the ways it preferred, this affect the politicians as well as the government. Politicians and government understand that media become an important tool to influence the people and to retain their power. They therefore want to make sure that those things on the television are beneficial for their image and for the political situation.

There are number of ways that the politicians and the government can influence the political contents in the media. Being part of the media can made it easier for them to influence the political contents. The ownership of the media, especially the television stations, is often under the state ownership. The state ownership of the media increases the likelihood that the media are being captured.

Media ownerships are ranged from the private ownership to the state ownership. In theory, media ownership can be categorized into 2 groups: State-owned media, which often view information as a public commodity to be protected against a private sector monopoly in the public interest; and Private media, which, although they may distort information under the influence of political parties or commercial pressures, are at least not government controlled. There are laws and regulations that established to support for the independent of the media.

The new Broadcast Act requires that all radio and TV stations be subject to license. Thai television channels remain under the tight control of various government agencies.

Table 1: Owners and operators of Thai Television channels

TV channel

Owner

Operator

Channel 3

MCOT

Bangkok Entertainment Co. Ltd.

Channel 5

Royal Thai Army

Royal Thai Army

Channel 7

Royal Thai Army

Bangkok Broadcasting & Television Company (BBTV)

Modernine TV (MCOT)

MCOT

MCOT

National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT)

Government’s Public Relations Department (PRD)

Government’s Public Relations Department (PRD)

Thai Public Broadcast Station or TPBS (TPBS)

Government’s Public Relations Department (PRD)

Private

Channel 3 is owned by MCOT a former state enterprise under the ownership of government and the Royal Thai Army. It is operated by Bangkok Entertainment Co. Ltd. a subsidiary company of BEC World Public Co. Ltd., under contract. Channel 5 is both owned and operated by the Royal Thai Army. Channel 7 is owned by the Royal Thai Army and operated by the Bangkok Broadcasting & Television Company (BBTV) under contract. Modernine TV or MCOT is both owned and operated by MCOT. National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT) owned and operated by the government’s Public Relations Department (PRD) of the Prime Minister’s Office, and TPBS, previously iTV, is now a privately run independent TV station. TPBS is free from government control or influence, with its budget financed by sin tax. It is less likely to get any intervention from politicians or state power.

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According to table 1 showing the owners and operators of Thai television channels, the broadcast media are entirely owned by the state. However, the state has the ability to give concessions to the private operators in a limited number. The concessions were often given on a privileged patronage relationship. Those who had political powers or have connections with the concessionaries would have the priority to get the concessions which are given either in the short-term or in the long-term. As a result of the limited concessions, the state and a small number of media corporations have monopolized the channel on the rights and freedom of information and communication, for which ideas and culture are distributed. Moreover, since the state owns most of the country’s television stations, no broadcasting about corruption are not unusual.

Not only the television can be bribed or influenced, the newspaper can be in the same situation as well. For the newspaper industry in Thailand, they are strongly owned by a single family or small groups of investors who share familial relationship, or a publishing group. Even they are privately owned, not being captured because of the state ownership, they can still be influenced as well.

Table 2: Owner of Thai Newspapers

Newspaper

Owner

Thai Rath

Vacharaphol Family

Daily News

Hetrakul Family

Khao Sod

Matichon Pcl, a publishing group

Kom Chad Luek

Nation Multimedia Group

Krungthep Turakij

Nation Multimedia Group

Post Today

Post Publishing Pcl

Phoojadkarn Daily

Manager Media Group.

Bangkok Post

Chirathivat family, the South China Morning Post of Hong Kong, GMM Grammy Pcl.

The Nation-

Nation Multimedia Group

Each newspaper has its own political stance, and they serve different group of readers. However, even the newspapers in Thailand are privately owned, they can still be under the political pressure as well. Being under the pressure, newspapers then have the ability to present the news contents in which bias toward government or against the government, depending on who pressure them. In addition to the direct political pressure, if the owner of the newspaper is interested in which side or political groups, he is more likely to accept the bribery. The side they take depends heavily on sponsorship by and private relationships developed between the newspaper and influential individuals or groups. Bribery can be in form of money and non-money, even though, the owner does not get money in order to support that side, he is still willing to receive the bribe in form of the special privilege or some kind of protections.. If the government or the politicians want the news to present information that is desirable for them, they can choose to pressure or bribe them. We can see that there is still a chance for the politicians or the government to influence the news.

Most of media in Thailand are subjected to the influence of either government or groups of people. For the television, most of the channels belong to the state, indicating the lack of freedom of expression and the ability to influence outcome. For newspaper, the influence comes in form of bribery rather taking ownership. The state will get into the media, trying to manage their working process. It can arrange the information received and released by the media in order to control the information to be in its desirable outcome. With this action of state, the information is distorted, some truths are not revealed. The benefits of the distortion or the concealment will fall into hands of a group of people, not the whole. Thus, the intervention of state on the media is not desirable outcome for the society as a whole and it is inefficiency. Therefore, this is the way that can lead to the corruption problem.

Corruption problem is one of the major issues in Thailand which tends to be more important through time. This does not mean that in the past Thailand had no corruption. Actually, the problem of corruption has been rooted in Thailand for ages but it may not be concerned or realized much as in the present. The possible reason is that the administrative system in the past gave absolute power to the king, the gap between king and public was quite large and classes in the society were existed. Moreover, people had no ability to make decisions in all kind of things, in other words, they had no rights and freedom in their own life.

Since the administrative system of Thailand has changed to democracy and the country has developed, things have been improved especially the communication that tends to be more advanced. Because of rights and freedom people are allowed to enjoy especially the freedom in expressing opinion, so what people perform will have more opportunity to be revealed to public for them to realize unlike in the past that there was no freedom, that’s why things were kept as with those who were relevant while the public could not know the truth at that time.

Corruption problem that has been in Thailand for a long time starts to be recognized and people also start to realize that it is bad thing since it is extremely destroying the pattern of interaction for the society as a whole, it also creates the distortion and inefficiency in economic development, so the country cannot develop to its highest or even expected position with this constraint.

Furthermore, corruption in Thailand may come from many possible reasons including low salaries of public servants, low education of people, big financial gaps between social classes, lacking transparency of governance, unstable political situation, lack of democracy, lack of freedom of word, heavy bureaucracy, and centralized power. However, in this paper, we will scope the reasons to the lack of transparency of governance, the lack of democracy, and the lack of democracy.

In democratic society, people can participate in governing the country by electing the representatives to work and serve their interests. People can choose their representatives through election holding the principle of majority voting, in other words, those who get the highest voting will be the representatives. However, we can see that Thailand does not govern by complete democracy; Thailand is governed by semi-democracy, the possible reasons may come from many aspects such as culture that make the country cannot be governed by complete democracy. However, we are not able to judge whether complete democracy is suitable for Thailand because the country may have constraints or facts that the complete democracy cannot be used.

Furthermore, the corruption problem can have great impact on transparency and accountability of the government as well as the image of the country.

One of measure of transparency and accountability of government can be shown by election. Media provide information to public which influence their decision making in voting. Politicians may present themselves by using media since media can reach the majority of people. Moreover, as politicians desire to win the election, positive image is necessary, so they need desirable information to be sent out to public. The possible way to reach the target is bribery.

As Thailand is governed by democracy system, the right in freedom of expression is provided to both public as well as the media. Thus, the interventions from government and politicians in the media companies contradict to their providing right. Moreover, such interv

 

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