Western media reporting of the Bangkok riots

Posted: May 25, 2010 in Thailand

I’m still staying out of the debate about the protests and riots in Thailand. But I am watching with interest the reporting of the events in western media. It seems to be quite sensationalized in some places, mostly with the angle of the underclass’ struggle for democracy. It’s much more complicated than that but the details, even if they were understood by western journalists, wouldn’t sell newspapers or grab attention on the evening news in the U.S., UK or Australia.

Here is an example I just saw, thanks to a tweet by British journalist Richard Barrow who has been tweeting profusely all during the Bangkok crisis while sometimes in the midst of gunfire and grenade attacks. Earlier today the online edition of Australia’s ABC News had a story with the headline “Jailed Aussie ‘braved bullets’ for Thai peace”. Here’s a screen shot of the story (click image for larger size).

Sounds like he was quite a hero, doesn’t it. However, if you read the story and look at the included photo you realize that this guy was involved in the red shirts’ protests and appeared onstage making rather inflammatory speeches, and what followed later was wide scale arson and gunfights with some protesters using M16 rifles and M79 grenade launchers. Hmm, I’m not so sure setting fires is something most people would consider heroic. How does that headline reconcile with the story? Well, if you missed it upon first read the ‘braved bullets’ part is in quotes because they are quoting what the Aussie said. He’s calling himself a hero, ABC News isn’t. But that headline seems a little sketchy, as if it is meant to deceive.

Then about two hours later the headline of the story was changed to “Aussie claims he braved bullets for Thai peace”. Here is how it looks now.

Ok, so it’s cleaned up now, doesn’t mislead. But one wonders if the intent was to mislead. Many people are going to just skim the headlines and remember the impression they got without reading the story carefully.

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