Notes from the Field

Let’s Talk Rights: Returning Voice to the Voiceless

December 9, 2009

The unprecedented degree of polarization in Thai politics has been well-documented, and local media have undoubtedly played an instrumental role in perpetuating ongoing political tension. Gone are the days when balance and objectivity were held as worthy goals of the media. In the current commercial television climate, high-quality debate programs where two sides of an important public issue are represented have all but disappeared from the screen.

Inspector-General of the Ministry of Public Health MD Somchai Pinyopornpanich and Nasroh Sae debate on "Lets Talk Rights" over the right of nurses to wear the hijab in public hospitals.

Inspector-General of the Ministry of Public Health MD Somchai Pinyopornpanich and Nasroh Sae debate on Let's Talk Rights over the right of nurses to wear the hijab in public hospitals.

To make matters worse, political camps – always ready to point their finger at the media for siding with their opponent (and not with them) – have decided to take things into their own by creating their own alternative media spaces that tolerate nothing but their own political causes: the yellow-shirted, anti-Thaksin supporters glue their eyes to one channel, while the pro-Thaksin camp devotedly tune in to another for anti-government criticisms and occasional appearances of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Supporters of both camps can now conveniently choose news sources to reinforce their biases, flatter their self-regard, and omit or downplay inconvenient realities.

So it came as no surprise when The Asia Foundation’s Thailand Survey 2009 revealed that only a fifth (21 percent) of Thais felt that the Thai media had high integrity, while 81 percent of those surveyed viewed the media as biased.

Clearly, in this media climate, it’s taking an enormous risk to try to create a TV program that attempts to raise public awareness. Admittedly, we were sailing into uncharted waters   when we decided to launch our own TV program Let’s Talk Rights in November. The hope was to complement a post-election legislative development project of the King Prajadhipok Institute (KPI). The one-hour talk show, conducted in the Thai language, airs on Thai PBS television and aims to raise public awareness about human rights issues in Thailand through candid debates between policymakers, top government officials, academics, activists, and marginalized individuals.

Let’s Talk Rights tackles such controversial issues as community rights, rights to participate in development, rights of marginalized groups, as well as broader topics such as a constitutional amendment and the peace-building process in the conflict-prone three southern border provinces of Thailand.

The show's host Sunee Chaiyarose and The Asia Foundation's Senior Program Coordinator Ruengrawee Pichaikul review talking points during a break.

The show's host Sunee Chaiyarose and The Asia Foundation's Senior Program Coordinator Ruengrawee Pichaikul review talking points during a break.

Our debut season includes episodes such as:

  • Constitution Article 67: Community before Economy?
  • Emergency Decree in the Deep South: The Boundary Between Human Rights and Security
  • Hijab: A Test of Faith for Muslim Women in Thailand
  • A Window into the Mind of Perpetrator of Violence Against Women (Special episode to commemorate the International Day to Fight Violence Against Women on 25 November)
  • Decentralization in Thailand: A Solution to the Southern Unrest?
  • Forging Unity in Diversity: Respecting Cultural Identities in Thailand

Each episode sets out to educate the public about their basic constitutional rights by featuring civilian activists and their battles against social injustice. Specifically, the talk show provides citizens with a platform to voice their grievance to the general public. The hope is that when the public views the program on TV there will be the potential to influence them, as well.

Women discuss views surrounding the Thai Constitution during episode 5 of the program.

Women discuss views surrounding the Thai Constitution during episode 5 of the program.

Considerable effort has been invested in trying to clearly distinguish our program from typical biased shows airing in Thailand, and to ensure fair representation of the opposing viewpoints on the show. Let’s Talk Rights is the only TV talk show in the Thai mainstream media today that convenes government officials and complainants on the same stage. And viewers are encouraged to call, write, or email their feedback on the content and format of the show. So far, we’ve received around 30 phone calls per episode, and the numbers are increasing with each episode. You can watch past episodes on YouTube.

Let’s Talk Rights seems to have gotten off on right foot. Thai PBS has given us a new prime-time slot for the next season.

Ruengrawee Pichaikul is a Senior Program Coordinator and Akharakit Keeratithanachaiyos is an intern for the media advocacy program both in The Asia Foundation’s Thailand office. They can be reached at jieb@asiafound.org and akharakit@asiafound.org, respectively.

Write a comment:

* Required

Comments are moderated. Please be polite and on-topic.

 characters available