I have on many occasions made the point that a free media is an important part of a functioning society – it can help free flow of information and ideas, to educate its audience, to hold those in power to account in areas such as exposing corruption scandals. But in each society there is a balance to be struck between the public interest in a story, and the right of the individual to privacy and fair treatment. A responsible media must behave professionally and ethically and do its utmost to report accurately.
This is an issue which confronts every country. In the United Kingdom in 2012 there was an enquiry led by Lord Leveson into the culture, practice and ethics of the press. It looked at the relationship between the press and the public and phone hacking and other potentially illegal behaviour. It examined the relationship between the press and police and the extent to which that has operated in the public interest. It considered the relationship between press and politicians , and recommendations for a more effective policy and regulation that supports the integrity and freedom of the press while encouraging the highest ethical standards. You can find details of the report (in English) here.
I’m afraid that some of these issues appear in Thailand, and have emerged again after the tragic murders on Koh Tao of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller. I and other ambassadors have on several occasions had to plead with the media to respect the privacy of tourists and their families.
In particular it is very distressing to see pictures of the passports of those who have lost their lives posted on media and social media. These contain personal information and add no value to any news story. Personal information and details of victims of crime or accidents should not be passed to the media, nor published by them. It is especially upsetting if families learn details via the media before they have been informed themselves – the police and authorities must be responsible to ensure this is respected. Nor does anyone gain from seeing graphic pictures. We can only imagine how distressing this is for the families of those who have lost their loved ones here in Thailand. And families should be left to grieve at a time of emotional distress, rather than be subject to media harassment. Equally media should not act in a way which could be prejudicial to the right to a fair trial of those accused. These are questions of ethics and respect. But they will also help strengthen the media in Thailand, and maintain its reputation as a hospitable destination for foreigners. We will be discussing these issues with Thai media associations over the coming weeks.
We would very much welcome if they could agree on a voluntary code to regulate conduct.