In a week that saw Google’s parent company, Alphabet, announce record profits and investment, Thailand’s political parties are finalizing candidates for the March 24th General Election, the first since 2011. Google Thailand’s Communications Manager, Saiyai Sakawee, recently told The Nation newspaper that the internet giant is committed not only to fighting fake and misleading news but also to supporting a renewed environment for news publishers and empowering the public worldwide to get full access to the most relevant information. The internet giant, as well as media outlets, will play a crucial role in making sure that Thai people get the best possible result. Things have begun well and the media in Thailand, after nearly five years of military rule, is quite impartial and evenly balanced quite unlike its counterparts today in western countries where polarized politics and news commentary is unfortunately, the order of the day.
The media and news coverage of the Thai election up to March 24th will play a crucial role in its outcome. With record profits announced this week and still the biggest online player, Google will be the medium that will direct many Thai users to news and information websites between now and election day. Its communications manager in Thailand has confirmed that the internet giant is playing a key role not only in fighting fake, misleading or distorted news but also in encouraging a more vibrant, high quality news environment to develop and empowering users themselves to find the facts. It comes as Thai political parties finalize their election candidates and get ready to do battle for the hearts and minds of Thai voters.
Google has taken on the task for fighting fake news and the manipulation of users online at the hands of political spin masters. The worldwide organisation which yesterday reported record profits and a massive increase in capital expenditure and deployment of resources within its organisation, has also promised to up its game for the forthcoming general election in Thailand to be held on March 24th.
Election gets into gear with finalized list of candidates from Thailand’s political parties
This week saw political parties begin the process of nominating and signing off on their candidates and putting forwards election lists for seats as members of the new Thai Parliament. They also published lists for the position of Prime Minister which will see each party nominate up to 3 candidates. Thailand’s oldest party, the Democrat Party, is forecast to nominate the most number of candidates with Pheu Thai reported to be putting forward 97 to the election commission before the election registers close tomorrow. The former ruling party party named Khunying Sudarat Keyuraphan as one of its three picks for Prime Minister alongside Chatchart Sitthipan and Chaikasem Nitisiri. Khunying Sudarat is second favorite among the Thai public in a simple preference vote for Prime Minister according to most opinion polls trailing just behind the current incumbent, General Prayut Chan ocha. A notable exception from the MP lists was PM nominee Mr Sitthipan who, despite not running, committed himself to the party and suggested that he may run for the Governorship of Bangkok at some future date. Chatrchart Sitthipan is a popular star of the party among the young and urban electorate. Under the new constitution, outside candidates for Prime Minister can be elected by the two houses of parliament when they meet after the election.
News reporting in the Thai election will be crucial and Google is still the key player online
It is thought that Google, the internet giant, the media and news reporting will play a crucial role in an election which will see many possible swing voters even though opinions polls are showing that old political preferences are very much alive although weakened. There is also a new, younger element of the electorate voting for the first time since the last election eight years ago in 2011. Google’s role online has been evolving but it is no surprise that news and information content is, effectively, still at the core of its business. A senior executive for the company last week confirmed that countering false or misleading information was now become a key mission. Saiyai Sakawee is the Communications Manager of Google Thailand. She explained that Google was working to assist news companies and media outlets in Thailand and around the world, to produce an honest and high standard of journalism. The Google executive said that part of this new program by the internet’s biggest search engine, involves the recruitment of more personnel to adjudicate on content and to discern what is false, misleading or even harmful. These have become known the industry as ‘fact checkers’ although even within this term, there is some controversy as to how facts are judged. But Google seems to grasp this. The company has always had a canny knack of getting the balance right.
Google does not see itself as an arbiter of truth
Saiyai was quoted last week in an interview with Thailand’s popular English newspaper, The Nation. She explained that Google does not necessarily see its role as being an arbiter of what is true or not. The internet giants works on the basis of giving precedence to websites which have more authority and what it terms as relevance. She explained that Google’s much discussed and famed algorithm process works hard to achieve a balance between these two values. She did however explain that the world’s most popular search engine was still perfecting this process and adapting it to key issues. ‘Google’s mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. We are training our systems to recognize and address crisis events,’ she told the newspaper.
8 key signals of trust for news organisations
Google has launched a news initiative in conjunction with leading worldwide newspapers and digital news publishers. The project has so far identified 8 key signals of trust by which news sources can be judged. These have been outlined as best journalistic practice, the training, capability of writers and reporters, the focus of news coverage and policies, the use of references to support information, the approach used to construct news pieces, the source of news and how close they are to the subject (locality), the range of voices and the feedback regime deployed by the publisher for content that is published.
Google’s initiatives to help develop a viable and quality news industry in Thailand and worldwide
The initiative has also seen Google work with a range of large publishers worldwide on subscription models which is seen as something which is now part of the future of news. The news media is still, increasingly, moving online although traditional newspapers, though badly battered with plummeting circulation and ad revenues are not being ruled out just yet. The program, launched only two years ago, is determined to become involved with publishers committed to high standards of news and finding a new, viable future for the news industry. The initiative involves a range of programs such as Google Labs. This is, in itself, a range of news resources launched by Google sometimes in partnership with other organisations. For instance one of these if called ‘Bulletin’ which allows anyone in the world with a smartphone to become a news publisher. This ties in quite well with YouTube which is fast becoming a powerful news resource in itself. Another example of an initiative was a program called ‘Crosscheck ’ in 2017, designed to check facts for that year’s French presidential elections.
Google is reaching out to news organisations, journalists and entrepreneurs in Thailand
Google Labs has its Asian HQ in Singapore. It is reaching out to business people, news media and journalists in the region including Thailand. Among other things, it offers training for journalists. The Google division currently offers 55 courses in 17 languages on how best to use Google’s tools and products to make quality news.
Ms Sakawee points out that Google has now made these courses available in Thai language. She highlights that the courses are free of charge as the global giant seeks to help journalists bring quality stories and news to readers benefiting from its facilities. She revealed that since 2015, Google has helped train over 130,000 journalists in Thailand and 64 other countries.
Google empowers news organisations and end users themselves to test the truth and access information
The Google executive emphasised that the company was on guard against fake news or misleading information. The initiatives being pursued by the company will help counter such threats. Saiyai said that the proliferation of such harmful content should be seen as a challenge to news organisations engaged in professional journalism and committed to high standards. She revealed that Google is, in fact, already working harder and deploying personnel to screen content for falsehoods and this includes sources in Thailand and targeting the kingdom. However, Google has a bigger and overarching mission in mind. Ms Sakawee highlighted three goals: to work with publishers to produce better copy and higher standards of news content, to work with news organization to make available the best standards of information to counter false or misleading sources and thirdly to make the online users more confident at using digital technology and sourcing information for themselves.
Thailand’s media has never been so objective or impartial after nearly five years of military rule
The latter objective could be particularly relevant to Thailand where more and more Thai people today are connected to the internet through smartphones. Research has shown that Thai people, particularly women, are getting more news online. This election in Thailand will see many Thai voters get news from social media from partial and particular political platforms depending on the user’s political affiliation. However, the Thai media, after over four years of military rule, is more objective and less biased today then many mass media outlets today in Europe and the United States where increasing polarization between left and right wing views is producing a similar and quite negative effect on the media. Although the Thai junta has retained draconian powers to control the media as required, it has used them sparingly and the general election is set to take place in an orderly and well informed environment. The new Thai constitution, which was approved in 2016 by a public vote and which came into effect in 2017, still gives Thailand’s military a significant level of control over political affairs and has been designed to prevent a breakdown in political life such as the country experienced from 2006 to 2014.
Thailand’s election campaign off to an orderly start
This week, Thailand’s political parties have been finalizing the registration of candidates before the deadline expires on the 6th February. The Election Commission has revealed that quite a few newly registered parties will not be qualified to field candidates but it is expected up to 50 or so will. Thailand’s oldest political party, the Democrat Party, is fielding the most candidates at 278 while a range of parties associated with former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister Yingluck are in the field including the former ruling Pheu Thai party. The final election lists will be confirmed by Thailand’s Election Commission on February 15th, allowing an intensive campaign to March 24th which is polling day in Thailand. So far, the campaign has been conducted in a reserved and professional manner with parties still releasing policy documents. There have be temporary outbursts of outrage and controversy but all parties are, so far at least, fighting the election without fueling political tensions which is a very encouraging sign.
Oldest Thai political party has the largest membership base but its voting preferences that count
Figures released last week by Thailand’s Election Commission show that the Democrat Party is the largest in Thailand with over 129,000 members. The new Future Forward Party, a radical and popular new party has over 43,000 members while the Pheu Thai, the former ruling party has just over 20,000 paying members. This, of course, is not indicative of the voting patterns as Pheu Thai are still the largest party according to opinion polls tracking voting intentions. The new Palang Parcharat Party which is led by former cabinet ministers who resigned last week and who have nominated current Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha for Prime Minister has just over 4,200 members while the new Thai Raksa Chart Party which is one of a number of parties associated with the Shinawatras, is reported to have over 12,200 members.
Disciplined, humble and honest media crucial for Thailand now as it finds its political way forward
It is the balance of power which the election will throw up in Thailand’s lower house of Parliament combined with the provisions of the 2017 Constitution which will determine the course of Thai politics after the election. The best outcome for Thailand will be a functioning democracy and the ability of those in power to form a new government through the democratic process. Most observers and commentators expect, however, that any new government will be short lived although in Thailand predicting political events is never easy. Everything depends on how the dynamics of the new constitution work in practice with the election result and the political environment that this throws up. Throughout it all, a disciplined, humble and well informed media will be crucial to a healthy state of affairs in the country.