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Asean Affairs  22 November 2010

Headlines, videos can mislead

By  David Swartzentruber
AseanAffairs     22 November 2010

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In July at the end of the second fiscal quarter, when Thailand’s yearly economic growth was announced at 9.7 percent, the Asean Affairs office was flooded by foreign media asking for comments, as the red shirt protest had occurred during that same time period and put simply, the question was, “How can this be?”

This incredulousness can be attributed to several factors divided between how news is delivered in the 21st century and misperceptions about Asia, unless one has lived here for awhile.

The sad fact is that most people in Thailand and elsewhere get their news from television. It is true that a “picture is worth a thousand words,” but in the case of news coverage it can mislead.

Thailand is about the size of two Wyomings (a U.S. state), meaning that while the red shirt protest covered a few city blocks, the rest of the country was busy manufacturing automobiles, hard drives and a wide range of other manufactures to be exported.

However, a view of the “Nightly News,” could have rendered a false image that the whole country was under siege, rather than a small but significant portion of Bangkok.

Another factor that played into the misperception is that news services sent in reporters to cover the protest, who apparently had little background on what they were reporting. The red shirt protesters were often portrayed as “poor farmers.”

However, the red shirt cause was backed by a fugitive billionaire prime minister, who took care of every physical need the protesters had during their two-month siege. It is conjectured that the protesters made more money by protesting than if they had stayed on their farms. Protesters were often seen on shopping sprees during breaks in the action.

It is fair to say that western audiences are quite susceptible to being misled about Asean, the countries in it and their individual cultures and mores.

The best antidote: a little travel might help.

Paul A. Ebeling, Jnr

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