UNDP uses journalism to promote peace in Southern Thailand
SONGKHLA, THAILAND - Amid conflict in Thailand’s Southern Provinces, access to public information can be difficult. The media has an important role to play in conflict situations and heavily influences public opinion—with both good and bad results. Single-sided coverage of current events can alter public perceptions on the ground.
Providing accurate, balanced information can promote peace by changing public perceptions. UNDP is using alternative media as a means of promoting peace in conflict-affected areas through its Southern Thailand Empowerment and Participation (STEP) Project. STEP’s “Southern Border Young Journalism School” created an alternative means for local people to have easy and reliable information and take into account gender perspectives.
“People in local communities need to obtain accurate information in order to work toward conflict resolution,” said Somchai Yensabai, UNDP Programme Specialist, Governance Unit.
UNDP, in cooperation with Deep South Watch under the Centre for Conflict Studies and Cultural Diversity (CSCD) at Prince of Songkhla University and Pondok Schools, selected 20 female and male students, aged 15-18 to undergo a 10-day intensive training camp. Rather than focus exclusively on violence and conflict, the training presented news on socioeconomic issues.
Almost 30 percent of households in the Southern provinces are now below the national poverty line. The three Southern border provinces of Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat have a lower than average household income than the rest of Thailand. Aside from the lingering conflict, employment, education, decline in family life and a lack of community participation remain persistent challenges.
“The Southern provinces aren’t among Thailand’s poorest, but they are slipping, and surely conflict is playing a major role,” said Yuxue Xue, UNDP Deputy Resident Representative in Thailand.
Language also has an effect on communication on the region. Yala, Pattani and Narathiwat are 80 percent Muslim, and the majority of children attend non-government Islamic schools with Yawi as the primary language.
The journalism courses covered basic journalism skills, field/community work to obtain news articles, and how to produce news articles in the local language of Yawi. By the end of the course, the young journalists were able to produce news articles in Yawi reflecting socioeconomic issues in their communities. Their articles were published in local newsletters distributed within their local communities and on the Deep South Watch website.
Quality journalism on the South is perceived as low and many people media as exacerbating the conflict. Stories are often written on the South only when violent events occur and obtain information from single sources, which may lack independence. These inaccuracies can often promote stereotypes along religious lines.
The journalism courses supported by UNDP equipped young people with basic journalism skills so that they can communicate accurate information to their communities and personally reflect on pressing socioeconomic issues and help work towards conflict resolution. While conflict and human rights issues might be sensitive, the training educated young people on these sensitive aspects through intensive sessions and highly-skilled resource people.