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.