”Human Rights Violation” is what the “Media” Should be Aware of!!! 

22 April 2015

By: Natthakorn Thamjai
First published on ASTV Manager Online 


The Office of the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, in collaboration with Amnesty International Thailand, organized a workshop on human rights education for the media in all regions, ranging from the north, the central, the northeast and the southern areas. The workshop was held at Twin Lotus Hotel, Muang District, Nakhon Si Thammarat Province between 27-27 March 2015.



The purposes of the seminar were to reduce the risk news reports which could lead to violation of human rights which are the fundamental rights to which people are entitled. There were human rights experts and the senior media attended the discussion and exchanged knowledge on human rights in a way that they were teachers to one another.


"The media" is part of society, acting as a person who reports events happening at a place or a "narrow circle" to the general public in a "broader manner". The media is like a "sun" that shines and allows the society to be more aware of truths. Therefore, the duty of the media in reporting news is sometimes very risky, especially the news that can unintentionally violate other people’s human rights.


That is to say, the media should be knowledgeable about what kind of news report is vulnerable to human rights and techniques or methods of presenting news in order to prevent human rights violation or even how to modify, add or edit the original, sensitive news content to not violate human rights.


In this seminar, there was one controversial issue concerning "how to report news to not affect the rights of the person being reported" or even the most important and indispensable part of the news which was the "headline" which was considered to be most vulnerable to human rights violation, as the concept of the headline is to use rhetorical words to stimulates excitement and metaphor to create the "first impression" of the news



The most-discussed topic at the workshop regarding the “headline” is that most of the media tended to use “generalization”; they included the ethnicity, religion, color of skin or unique characteristics of the person being reported expected to be of interest for news consumers in the news headline.


For example for the news content concerning the Islamic terrorists, the media may headline “Muslim Bandits”. It is true that the bandits in the news are Muslim, but headlining it with “Muslim Bandits” is considered distortion of facts or of news contents, which makes readers misinterpret the news.


However, the “Muslim Bandits” has a negative impact on the people who are Muslims being generalized. It can be said that the headline makes news consumers see the Muslim in a negative way as a result of “generalization”. As a matter of fact, the Muslim are very good people.


This kind of headline is sensitive and widely affects the feelings of people in society. There might be questions why news reporters headline news in this manner and whether or not they have prejudice against Islam. Moreover, it is like violating the human rights of all fellow Muslims. Sometimes, it becomes “a little fire burns up a great deal of corn”, and the problem can be intensified like the tragic case of “Charlie Hebdo”.


There are even news headlines disparaging "sexuality", i.e. the headlines insulting the "third gender" which is neither male nor female. These people’s human rights are often abused in many respects, whether by their peers or society, such as being rejected from working in certain positions, being rejected from blood donation, because most people in society views them as sexual and sex-addict.


The following example words “faggot”, “buffalo lady boy”, “black bean”, etc., are the word use that disparage sexuality of such group of people. It might be because in the past doctors believed that “people of third-gender” are people with an abnormal condition and sexual deviance. Some religious people reasoned that it was a result of karma or misery from bad deeds done in the previous life.


However, nowadays, doctors and psychiatrists around the world have agreed that to be people of third gender are neither abnormal nor psychotic, and it is not necessary for them to receive any treatment. Nevertheless, in Thai society, most people usually label this type of people as unordinary people. If the media headlines news or write news in a way that disparages the people of “third gender”, it might also result in human rights violation.


In addition to the headline topic, the next issue being discussed which is as important is “news contents”, which contain details about who, what, where, how, when, etc.


At times, due to the present era where online media is becoming more popular, news report has to be timely. As a result, there is lack of thorough review by the editorial department or even lack of review by the legal department. Therefore, some news stories brutally violate the human rights of individuals causing the person being reported damage.


For example, in news coverage of 14-year-old child who was raped, despite the use of fictional name, the context of the news presentation could easily allow news readers to investigate or find out who child was because the name of the child's grandmother, clear picture of the child's house, the name of the rapist and the position of the child such as student president were specified in the news. Consequently, people can easily investigate who is the “student president” in question since there is only one student president in a school.


Thus, this type of news content which suggests the identity of the child is vulnerable to human rights violation in news presentation.


Even for some scholars in the discussion, they noted that news presentation regarding the people who are physically and mentally disabled such as the person suffering from having the genitalia larger than normal or the person suffering from having premature large breasts. Even though such people are willing to disclose their name, address and give consent to take photographs in order to ask for help from donors, it may also be news presentation that violates human rights.


Although at present several news articles contain some contents that violates human rights, the rate of legal prosecution by the victims against the media is very low, possibly because the mass media in Thailand is considered as the "fourth estate" and most of the victims whose rights have been violated by the of the mass media do not want to argue or get involved in a lawsuit. As a result, there are a few victims who file a lawsuit against the media.


Nevertheless, the fact that a few victims file a lawsuit against the media does not mean it will continue. Currently, the National Human Rights Commission, Amnesty International and the Council of Lawyers under the Royal Patronage have been strongly emphasizing on human rights protection. It is, therefore, believed that in the near future, the number of human rights cases will increase accordingly. If the victims are educated and have a chance to talk to lawyers about human rights cases, the number of lawsuits against the media will definitely increase.


However, the good protection or shield of the media from being involved in the human rights litigation is “public benefit”. In other words, if news presentation by the media is based on the maximum benefit of society and true intention to report news for the “public benefit”, the media will be protected, despite unintentional human rights violation.