Recently, the call for political reform has been advocated by some groups of student protesters in Thailand, who initially demanded the redraft of the constitution and the resignation of the current government. In August 2020, students from many universities in Thailand, such as Chulalongkorn University, Thammasat University, and Mahidol University, have gathered and rallied to express their anti-government position. In an attempt to explain the political communication process which is fundamental to the ongoing student anti-government protest, it is crucial to acknowledge that the media is a pivotal element in the democratic process. This article will discuss the political communication process which occurs in the period of student anti-government protest with the emphasis on the concepts of agenda setting theory, two-step flow theory, fake news, public opinion, and propaganda.

Khaosod English

The Impact of the Media

The media has a huge and particular impact on society and politics. Politicians do not only use the media to influence the viewers, but are themselves influenced by it. The media affects citizens’ ways of thinking, intentions, and norms. In fact, politics and the media have long been intertwined, with the media continuously setting an agenda in the political field. In the age of student rallies for political reform, the new media has been effective in boosting political communication. Mobile devices such as tablets, mobile phones and ipads have increased the effectiveness of political communication as political messages can be passed on through phone calls and text messages to many people. Messages of political rallies can be organized through phone calls and the information passed on through messages to the audiences and therefore, attendance of the same is guaranteed very fast. Communication has become much more convenient and student protesters as well as youths who are interested in political issues have become more vocal through the use of social media in expressing their stances and opinions. 

Agenda-Setting Theory

Agenda setting theory is based on the notion that the media control the agenda by selecting certain broad issue topics for prominent coverage, and this leads audience members to judge these issues to be more important than other issues. The public’s familiarity with political matters is closely related to the amount and extent of their attention to certain issues received in the mass media. In particular, the focus is on the concepts of priming and framing, with the former being the focus on certain issues while the latter means interpretation of stories. With regard to priming and framing, the media determine what people believe to be important issues. When the media focuses on the issue of student anti-government protest, the public opinions on that problem then become altered, and this will inherently affect the government. The Prime Minister reacts by responding to changes in attention to the media. Importantly, the media has a strong influence on the policy agenda of public officials. From this one can say that Thai media does in fact have the winning hand. For example, television coverage or news on social media and newspapers can affect many attitudes of the public on the importance of democracy, so it should be quite important to public officials to put those on their agenda. Elections, campaigns, and policies have always been important in the media and to the public. In Thailand, Twitter has become the main platform for political communication and information exchange among the young. Political campaigns are effectively conducted via hashtags that can spread easily to the public in a short period of time. From this, the media creates a political world that is the basis of the public’s knowledge and the later behavior, such as voting for the Prime Minister or any public official and protesting. The themes and issues that are repeated in the media become important to viewers. Those that are highlighted become especially influential when it comes to choosing a candidate. The media affects evaluations of the Prime Minister and public approval is strongly influenced by how the media portrays the candidate to the public. 

Thai PBS World

Two-step Flow Theory

Another important concept which is applicable in the process of communication in student anti-government protest is two-step flow theory. According to this theory, in the attempt to advocate political reform and new election, opinion leaders are more important than the media itself in influencing public opinion about politics. In the two-step model, the message from the media initially flows to opinion leaders, who will then influence them to the normal citizens who are the receiver of the end message. Since individuals are not social isolates, but members of social groups interacting with other people, response and reaction to a media message will not be direct and immediate but mediated through and influenced by these social relationships. In the student anti-government campaign, opinion leaders would likely be the main leaders of the student rally celebrities, and political leaders. The opinion leader theory assures that the information moves from the media in two stages. The first stage is the opinion leader, and these individuals pay attention to media messages. Depending on the theory, the thoughts and the beliefs of the opinion leaders are affected by two factors.The first factor is the real content of the messages and the second one is the opinion leader interpretations of these received messages.

The second stage is the receivers. They are these individuals who receive the information from the opinion leader and will be convinced by it. These leaders interact with the netizens via the usage of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook page and also via public speeches. In fact, one’s social system mattered in decision-making. Since the main leaders of the protest reported greater exposure to the mass media than did their followers, they are highly influential and credible. 

Bangkok Herald

Propaganda, Fake News, and Public Opinion

In propaganda, fake news, and public opinion, mass media is a term in which all forms of information promulgated extensively to a broad group of people. These days, the news on social media are largely fake as they are distorted or altered to cause uncertainties in society. For example, recently, there are many circulated news on social media which state that the Prime Minister is dead to stir up protest. For propaganda, one of the major reasons why Thai students attend the protest is due to the fact that Thai media has been long known for royalist propaganda. In Thailand, the monarchy is highly revered, and the discussion of it is particularly sensitive for Thai people. In fact, the act of criticism or overt disrespectfulness are punishable by Thai law, which may result in long prison sentences for the offenders. Currently, the way the topic of monarchy is being addressed in Thai schools and universities is done with high respect. Professors and students are prohibited by law from making negative comments or criticize the monarch’s wrongdoings. Also, the virtues of Thai monarch are expressed through most schools’ mandatory morning assembly, in which students are required to sing the national anthem everyday. Although propaganda creates nationalism, it catalyzes the youths to go to war, or rhetorically protest in Thailand. Importantly, Thai media has a major role in spreading propaganda. Many Thai politicians tend to use mass media to promote their views, often using experts to present an authoritative opinion on issues, and these experts frequently have hidden agendas. Most of the time, whistleblowers like Thai youths or online media users tend to expose their dishonest or illegal activities occurring in a government department. 

Yusof Ishak Institute

The Future of Political Communication in Thailand

All in all, it can be overtly seen that the media has a highly influential role in the age of an ongoing student anti-government protest in Thailand. Through the application of media concepts which comprised agenda setting theory, two-step flow theory, fake news, public opinion, and propaganda, Thailand’s current political turmoil can clearly be attributed to these theories. Before the internet and mobile devices, political communication was highly analogue as it was done through newspapers and print media generally. This was slow and could not reach many people as some people did not have access to newspapers and print media. With the advent of the new media today, this has greatly changed. Communication about political issues is conducted in a highly convenient manner and within a few minutes, it reaches people countrywide, as it is done through the internet sources such as blogs, online articles, and the social media such as Twitter and Facebook. In the light of the political age, it is difficult for one to disregard political persuasion from propaganda and fake news. The best way to reduce oneself from these undesirable media is to become politically educated. This requires for one to watch more than one newscast, to listen to National Public Radio, read the newspapers and find discrepancies. The biggest suggestion is for the Thai government to require that all media be unbiased. Newspapers and stations would be fined for not following rules and procedures. If there were such a law, the society would not need to worry about political vulnerability. 

Natthaphat Wongwaichon

Paloch Tawonrungroaj

Khetsopon Khantivirawat

Supaklit Vanichcharoenpong

Change this Subheading

Image Box Title

Change this description