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International Publications Upset Thais With Royal Cremation Coverage – It’s a two way street though

It’s day two after one of the most important, emotionally intense, and significant days in current Thai history. Not necessarily because of it’s political implications, but because of the emotional significance and impact it had on Thai people. Even though King Bhumibol Adulyadej died on 13 October 2016, it was now, one year later, that people’s ‘biggest fears’ came true as the cremation ceremony of the nation’s ‘father’ gave sad confirmation that he is, indeed, gone. While the elaborate processions, plays, and ceremonies certainly impressed, it was His Majesty’s ascendance to heaven that got tears across every Thai nationals face.

The official ceremonies were all broadcasted during the day on 26 October 2017 but all of a sudden the live stream / broadcasts stopped shortly after 10 pm leaving spectators guessing what happened, if ‘it’ happened and why it wouldn’t be shown. It seems like the cremation itself was not broadcast due to privacy concerns, which is certainly understandable – could have been better communicated though. No ill will towards the organizational body here though – mourners in attendance and all across the country in front of big screens and small TV sets alike understood and still paid tribute to their ‘father’, being sure he would know they came to send him off.

As a foreigner it is rather difficult to explain the importance that King Rama IX played in the life of each and every Thai and therefore I would like to point towards an article written by one of our Thai guest contributors: Nation’s father: Why Thailand is mourning.

Right after the sad fact that he was gone was accepted lots of netizens turned towards international publications to see what they wrote about one of the most important events in recent Thai history. Most publications got the tone right, I believe, by covering it in a toned down, respectful manner. Sweden, as a country, even held an extra parade for the late King showing their respect to his impact on Thailand.

Then, however, there was this:

The Architectural Digest tried to avoid more blame and changed the headline….forgot to also update their article link though. Insider didn’t really care and still, as of this writing, has the original article up.

Those were two of the most criticized posts online that not only led to criticism of the publications that posted them, but foreign cultures as a whole.  One of the most shared posts that criticized the “Insider” looked like this:

Comments like the one below were seen on almost each and every of the posts that shared above pictured articles.

Let’s break down what happened here.

First, let’s be clear about one thing: Neither the “Architectural Digest” nor any of the “INSIDER” publications (business, tech, food, etc.) are somewhat close to ‘real’ journalism. The Architectural Digest tried to use some ‘smart’ clickbait to gather more attention and to get the ‘wow’ factor with their article. Once the shit storm started they were quick to fix most of the content they got ‘wrong’ (except the link) and then highlighted the overall costs of the funeral site while also highlighting its importance. It looks like they learned from their mistake. Doesn’t excuse it though, as they should have researched appropriate information before and not just after receiving complaints but that is, unfortunately, how the internet works. I try to be edgy, over the top, wow with crazy content – unless someone actually knows better and then I just change it but am not telling anyone about my fault and hope people will forget about it over time.

So just to not forget it: Architectural Digest: You acted like idiots. If you’d study journalism, you’d fail. 

Now let’s look into the “INSIDER” issue. Again, as with the AD, a short disclaimer. INSIDER is not, nor has it ever been, of high journalistic standard and I don’t know how anyone could mistake them for anything else beside a Buzzfeed wolf in ‘smart’ sheep clothes. All they aim for are clicks (e.g. business insider articles about GOT) and selling ads.

The issue at hand now here was the ‘insensitive article’ with the headline that got everybody fired up.

First of all: The headline is obviously insensitive as one simply does not call a funeral ‘insanely lavish’ – that has nothing to do with quality journalism or business sense, that’s just called being a decent human being. The reason behind that headline, of course, again, clickbait. Using such trigger words increases Click-Through-Rate and if the CTR is high, site visits increase and ad money flows.

So, again, stupid, insensitive headline. No question! However, am I surprised that they do something like that? That they stick to buzzfeed style clickbait headlines? Not at all. And that also goes for the article itself. While the article could also have been written by a 9th grader in high school, as there’s barely any written content but only pictures with captions, it is neither insulting nor insensitive. It simply isn’t any good which, again, does not surprise. It has a short intro and then obvious picture captions that describe what happens on each picture. Also here, if the author would take journalism classes at Uni, he/she would fail but that’ about the only reasonable criticism I would add here.

As one can see I don’t necessarily get the intense criticism of this article. The headline, yes, the article itself, no. INSIDER simply isn’t WaPo, NYT or anything in that league. If we’re honest, it’s not even a HuffPo.

I do understand the anger and the need to get the anger out of the system but then taking it even further (all those comments) by insulting other cultures and saying that “ฝรั่ง” (“Farang”, somewhat derogatory word for ‘foreigner’ – depending on how it is used) are ignorant, don’t understand, and don’t care. Now I don’t even take it too personal here and don’t want to defend myself, I just think such discussions, by generalizing and blaming entire cultures do not help at all and would not be, I believe, in the interest of the late King who, according to my understanding, was all for inclusiveness, compassion, and togetherness.

Lastly I would like to point out that there also are lots of Thai publications that “misinterpret” events, political happenings, and news from other countries or simply report them in a ‘wrong’ way and show little to no respect towards the countries and people affected there. This is not meant to promote a ‘you do something wrong, we do something wrong, so it’s fine’ claim though, but should rather show that nobody is perfect and while blame is deserved on the end of the people publishing insensitive content (be it Thai or ฝรั่ง ), we should rather aim to unite and support journalism of higher standard. There still are many newspapers / online publications out there that do a very good job so if the INSIDER annoys you, please leave an appropriate comment there, send them a message, and then unfollow them and instead of blaming whole cultures, support quality content. Not only internationally, but also locally. On the long run we all do need quality journalism to do a good job and we need those journalists to keep their motivation to do said jobs, otherwise we will end up with more buzzfeed, insider, etc. and we will all just get even more angry – and this, I believe, is something we all should avoid.

#MakeLoveNotWar #Compassion

Sascha Funk

Founder / Editor at My-Thai.org
Sascha is the publisher of my-thai.org and switched from an online marketing agency life in Europe to a teaching and education life in Thailand. He also writes about Teaching & Technology.

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  • Varinthorn Witwarakoon

    Many others country may think this is a waste of money and times but as long as they are not Thais they won’t understand us.

  • That’s basically the point I am making. I’m not sure if ‘this is Thailand, foreigners are stupid and don’t understand’ is a good way to communicate though.

  • Penpitcha Sathirapanya

    I agreed with you that it is a click-bait topic and lead to misunderstanding from Thais. The first time I saw this I don’t like it also. However, their might be someone who doesn’t understand clearly about our culture, I do respect that and respect in freedom of speech. Finally, one thing that I want to say is nowadays, not only media that have to consider about the conflict that might happen toward your publish but also people should receive the news thoughtfully ;)

  • Great comment, thanks for such a thoughtful response, especially your final thought resonates very well with me.

  • May Chiranakorn

    I totally think that they should use proper headline instead of insensitive one. Being the journalists should not focus only writing articles, profit or CTR but also focus on the impact of what they wrote. As they are the media reporters, people tend to believe them because they are the intermediate. Therefore, I explicitly agree that we should rather aim to unite and support journalism of higher standard. Moreover, in this case of the cremation. This topic should be considered more than ever! Because King Bhumibol Adulyadej is spiritual anchor of Thais. It isnextremely sensitive topic so be careful!

  • It is a very sensitive topic, I agree. But then again so are topics that Thai news get wrong in other countries. Hence I completely agree with you that everybody needs to step away from focusing on CTRs and ad money only but rather look into increasing journalistic integrity. One step to achieve that in this case would have been for INSIDER to ask someone who actually lives in Thailand. Would have been an easy task, one imagines. There’s HARO for example which is a platform that connects news outlets with locals, or simply ask BKK Post, Khaosod, Reuters, AFP, etc…I really hope we will see the end of those clickbait articles at one point in time!