When the News is For Sale

I fired off a letter to the editor this morning when I discovered that The Nation had used a quarter of today’s front page to give free advertising for the opening of “Chicago: The Musical” in the Big Mango.

Tawn, as a PR professional, admired the success of whichever agency handles that account, but was shocked at how blatant the placement was.

Nation 2009 You will recall that a few weeks ago, I took to task one of the paper’s columns, “Ask the Pros”, for asking the owner of a beauty clinic that performs colon hydrotherapy (enemas by another. sexier name) to play the role of unbiased expert in responding to a reader’s questions about the safety and efficacy of colonics. 

But this seems to have reached new levels of journalistically unprofessional conduct.  A quarter of the front page with the following caption: “BEC-TERO Entertainment paid more than Bt100 million to bring Broadway’s ‘Chicago: the Musical’ to Bangkok.  The play took the stage last night at the Muangthai Rachadalai Theatre in The Esplanade shopping complex and runs until February 22.  The 50-strong cast is led by Michelle DeJean and Terra C. MacLeod.  Tickets cost Bt1,000 up to Bt4,000 each.”

Now, I want you to know, I am a fan of the musical Chicago.  In fact, Tawn and I are joining a group of friends to watch the show on Saturday.  So it isn’t that I dislike musicals or don’t believe that coverage of a new musical’s opening isn’t news.  I am pretty certain, though, that we have more pressing things to report on the front page.

You may not have heard, but there is actually quite a bit of real news going on here in Thailand: 

  • We have a police investigation into the New Year’s Day pub fire (resulting in 64 deaths) that is revealing some alarming things about public safety, tax evasion, and corruption of public officials.
  • We have a new Prime Minister (our fourth in a year) who is trying to steer the ship of state in rough political and economic waters. 
  • We have a nationalized airline that is bleeding money while giving its employees large bonuses and raises. 
  • We have an Agriculture Ministry that is requiring that tumeric, lemongrass, and ginger (among other things that farmers use as organic and safe pesticides) be listed as hazardous substances, a move that undermines organic farming and opens the doors for the large chemical companies.

Any one of these – plus a dozen more – could have provided some much-needed news reporting, investigation and analysis.  But the editors felt that the biggest news in the Kingdom was the opening of an expensive show from Broadway.  One of several shows that open here every year.

I’ll let you know if the editor deigns to respond to my letter.


0 thoughts on “When the News is For Sale

  1. When I sent out press releases for my small company to media publications around Bangkok, I thought I had a good story that readers would be interested in reading. But every single publisher who contacted me said something along the lines of, “We’d love to publish a story about your company. How much advertising will you be buying?”When I told them I am a small start-up and I don’t have an advertising budget, every single one of them all of a sudden lost interest in my “great story”, and it didn’t get published after all.So if you have cash, you can have all the press you want. Sad but true.

  2. Ugh, I hate when the hard news isn’t covered because of lighter and fluffier things. I understand the want to cover happier things but the hard news should be covered first. I hope the editor takes your suggestions in consideration.

  3. ITA with you Chris about the descent of incisive journalism selling out to entertainment fluff. Like you, I LOVE watching Chicago (I’ve only seen the movie but I’m also a fan of Bob Fosse which I did see on stage while in London) but I think it is global pressure to turn journalism into a profit making scheme by putting in trivial entertainment in the shadows of media moguls such as Rupert Murdoch and FOX News (which I think some have accurately called FAUX News) in the U.S.My theory is that when there is FLUFF in major news media–there’s LOTS of political corruption at the highest levels of govt and corporations occurring and this is all meant to distract us by averting our eyes. I don’t mean to sound like some conspiracy theorist (which I really don’t believe in) but it seems to me that these sorts of things happen when things are REALLY BAD–like how the world economy is hinging on the potential collapse of the American economy RIGHT NOW.

  4. For years, friends have been trying to convince me to go back to work as a journalist in BKK. This is beyond awful! Having said that, I think the Thai language newspapers are much better than the English ones, though not by much.As for Chicago, I think the movie is much better than the musical.

  5. Actually, seems to me that tidbit of real current news is a spate of recurring events which happened regularly (fire in crowded night clubs, changing of the PMs, Thai Airways issues, etc.). Therefore, nothing new…but how often does ‘Chicago’ the musical comes to Thailand? That’s BIG news, I suppose?

  6. HEY BIG SPENDER!!! Are readers supposed to intuit that there’s not many big spenders out there anymore as even the wealthy are toning down in their overly extravagant purchases? Nah, big spenders can always pay someone else to discreetly hide their conspicuous consumption.

  7. @ElusiveWords – I recall watching “Good Night and Good Luck” about Edward R. Murrow.  Even though he made the statement decades ago, he was very prescient when he warned against the increasing focus on entertainment in the media and the decline of its use to increase public knowledge and stimulate public debate about issues of importance.
    @TheCheshireGrins – There’s certainly a place for entertainment news – Chicago is one of the larger touring shows to come to Bangkok, after all.  It is a matter of balance and perception and in this case, my perception is that the Nation gave a load of free advertising to the promoters of the musical.
    @Dezinerdreams – You’ll be glad to know that under pressure from the farmers and in thanks to the media – credit where it is due – the Ministry has agreed to review their decision.
    @tdaojensen – Interesting theory about high levels of fluff in the media correlating with high levels of corruption.  May very well be true since a free media is able to shine light into the dark corners of power and politics.  A media that is not free (or which is bought) has every incentive to keep the spotlight on entertainment rather than news.
    @ongkun – @zacksamurai – Interestingly, the Thai papers seem to be more sensationalistic, but they also cover some stories more deeply.  After all, their readership are citizens whereas the Post and the Nation are geared to foreign audiences.  That said, I think the Post is more substantive at this point than the Nation and I’ll probably change my subscription soon.
    @curry69curry – Interesting observation, Gary.  The stories of political upheval, THAI mismanagement, and corrupt public safety are “old news” here.  The editors of local media may be starving for some positive news, even if it is fluff.
    @agmhkg – Probably an agreement that they buy advertising in the paper in exchange for “favorable” coverage.
    @relientkfan_47 – Well, there are many reasons for the slow death of the newspaper industry, but declining standards of journalistic propriety only serve to hasten that death.
    Thanks to all for your comments.  I’ll let you know if I receive a response from the editor.

  8. Don’t know how I missed this one – probably still dazed by the food porn. The newspaper is almost worthless here (IN) except for lining the bird/bunny cages. They just went to skinny paper, and the only parts I still read are the local and community news along with the funnies. I get most everything else from radio and internet. If I want world news I tune in to the BBC or NPR. There isn’t the analysis and commentary in the paper that they used to have, just ads and sales fliers stuffed inside. I’m not renewing our subscription when it runs out.

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