The Bangkok Recorder, the first Thai newspaper, was established July 4, 1844. It was a bimonthly publication written in both English and Thai. The first daily paper began September 1, 1868. The first daily in Thai called "The Court" was published September 26, 1875. Today there are 16 Thai, 8 Chinese and 2 English dailies.
The current two English dailies are the Bangkok Post and the Nation. They address the same market segment, foreigners in Thailand and the local elite, and otherwise, too, they are much alike. Both are morning papers and are chiefly sold to subscribers, though they are available at many newsstands throughout the country, each at 10 Baht per copy.
Both papers carry the international news material of the wire services Reuters, Associated Press (AP), Agence France Presse (AFP) and United Press International (UPI), so there is a fare share off almost identical contents.
Both papers have their own staff to report on local events. Typically the first two or three pages are local news and the next two or three pages are local and regional (Southeast Asian) news. Only extraordinary international events make it to the front page. Otherwise, both papers have a few pages of world news following the editorial and feature pages that come after the local and regional news. The Bangkok Post as well as the Nation have substantially more world news than all other English language papers in Southeast Asia, including those of Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines where English language papers primarily address local buyers.
Both papers report considerably more on the neighboring countries of Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Burma than the international media in general, and actually, the two Thai papers are probably the best source of information on developments in the above named four countries - certainly better than the English media in the four countries themselves.
However, the approach of the Bangkok Post and the Nation towards the developments in the above named four countries has been close to that of the Thai governments in recent years. In the case of Burma, the approach has long been accommodating the military rulers, reflecting the substantial Thai business interest in Burma.
The Thai government has long supported the resistance groups against the Vietnamese-imposed government in Cambodia and has even sheltered the Khmer Rouge leaders. Reports and comments in Bangkok’s English language papers have been inclined to support the position of the Thai government.
Both papers report extensively about European and American sports and have extensive business and feature sections (Outlook of the Bangkok Post, Focus of the Nation). In the opinion of the Cockatoo author, the best feature writer of the Thai media is Sanitsuda Ekachai of the Bangkok Post. She manages to cover even philosophical topics in a manner that appeals to the average reader.
On Saturdays, the Bangkok Post carries the full page Nite Owl column of Bernard Trink who reports on the rather vulgar aspects of Thailand, the go-go bars and similar establishments (see chapter Nightlife).
In its editorials, the Nation is probably more critical than the Bangkok Post. Habitually, the Nation publishes critical comments whenever a military coup happens in Thailand, though the criticism is worded carefully in order not to risk the publishing license of the paper.
To be a bit more critical than the Bangkok Post, and furthermore, to be more nationalistic, is in accordance with the origin of the paper. It was founded in 1971 by journalists rather than a publisher, and it was first published at a time when the Bangkok Post, established in 1946 with mainly foreign capital, took over an earlier Thai English newspaper, the Bangkok World. Allegedly, the journalists who founded the paper made the step to avoid, in the national interest, a news monopoly of the foreign-owned Bangkok Post.
For many years, the Nation wasn’t a very competitive product, not backed by enough capital and widely ignored by advertisers. A turning point in the history of the paper was when in the early 80’s the Bangkok Post introduced higher advertising rates for its shipping section - a part of the paper consisting mainly of ads but bringing with it a large clientele of exporting companies who have to know international connections and departures from Bangkok.
To corner the market, or at least to gain access, the Nation offered to print the shipping ads free of charge. It was a grandiose marketing move. The shipping associations couldn’t really say no, but they also couldn’t accept that their ads were printed free of charge. But by means of its offer to print the shipping ads free of charge, the Nation forced the Bangkok Post to lower its rates again, and since then, the shipping ads are carried by both papers.
The Thai press is censored in the way that publishing newspapers requires a license which can be revoked or suspended by the government. This happens occasionally to Thai language papers though rather for publishing sexually stimulating photos than for political comments. Conventional wisdom is that the Thai government watches the Thai language press closer than the English language press as the latter also serves the purpose to prove that there is democracy in Thailand in spite of military coups and the vast influence of the military on the government (even "civilians" in leading positions in the Thai government often have a military background as in many cases they are retired generals).
The English language Thai media doesn’t publish much gossip about politicians and other public figures (a far cry of what is common, for example, in the Philippines), and one will certainly never read anything critical about the King or the Royal family. Conversely, the English language media, just as the Thai language media, also functions as greeting card whenever there is a Royal celebration. On December 5, 1991, the King’s 64th birthday, the Bangkok Post carried above it’s title in big bold red letters the headline "Long Live His Majesty The King".
It must also be noted that quite obviously, all Thai papers and magazine have a substantial commercial interest in the Monarchy. On December 5, 1991, the Bangkok Post, for example, carried several pages of ads with best wishes, plus there was an additional 36-page Special Publication with more than 11 pages of ads expressing loyalty to the Monarchy. Most of these ads just consisted of a line like "Long Live His Majesty The King" plus a photo of King Bhumiphol and the logo of the company that paid for the ad.
As a number of photos were identical it seems that the advertisers were offered a choice among photos owned by the Bangkok Post. One photo appearing three times showed the King using a certain brand of a photo camera. It’s questionable whether the selection of a photo with the King ostensibly endorsing a particular product was in good taste.
The Thai King is considered and respected as above daily political haggling. Thai politicians usually refrain from identifying their own programs with the King or the Royal family, in spite of the fact that such a strategy could garner substantial numbers of votes in all parts of the country. As the name of the King is not drawn into political campaigns, it should also not be drawn into the marketing of certain products, whether openly or hidden.
One could also doubt whether it is ethical to cash in, as many Thai papers do, on the popularity of the King and Royal family by soliciting advertisements expressing best wishes to the Monarch. A more ethical policy would be to publish advertisements expressing best wishes to the King at a price that just covers the cost of the paper and the printing. This author is not aware of any Thai paper that would handle congratulation ads according to this proposal.
Advertising rates in Thai daily papers, those in English as well as those in Thai, are high if compared to some neighboring countries, for example the Philippines. There are practically no line ads in the English language papers, and for even the smallest matters, box ads are usually required. Almost all ads are by businesses, and as ads are usually too expensive to make it worthwhile, there are only few wanted or for sale ads other than for cars and real estate.
Most dailies in the vernacular only carry few ads. However, there are several Thai language weeklies such as Watajak and Borikartong which publish almost nothing but classified ads. Especially when searching for a house in a Thai neighborhood, they are the publications to buy and look through - together with a Thai who speaks English.
The leading and widest circulating Thai language paper is Thai Rath. Others are Siam Rath, Daily News, Chao Thai, Thai Daily, Ban Muang, Siang Puang Chan, Raiwan Bantoeng, Kao Panich, Prachatipatai, Ekaparb, Krungthep Vicharn, Dao Siam, Prachachart, Daily Times and Siang Mai.
Most Thai language papers are published in international standard size (as broadsheets) but as far as contents are concerned, they are rather tabloids. To them, the police beat is usually just as important as the coverage of the Prime Minister or the National Peace-Keeping Council. At least every second day, the lead story concerns some heinous crime which must be considered by the editors as having more entertainment value than some story on pending legislation or the haggling of the country’s political parties.
Chinese dailies are Sing Sian Yit Pao, Universal Daily News, Sirinakorn Daily News, Tong Fua Daily News, New Tiger Daily News, Kuang Hua Pao, Chia Pao Daily News, New Chinese Daily News.
International magazines such as Time, Newsweek, Asiaweek, Far Eastern Economic Review, as well as international newspapers such as the International Herald Tribune, the Asian Wall Street Journal and USA Today are more expensive in Thailand than in most Southeast Asian countries as in Thailand, they are marketed almost exclusively for foreign buyers while in countries such as the Philippines and Malaysia, they find substantial numbers of local readers. The biweekly Asia Magazine accompanies the Bangkok Post every second Sunday, free of charge.
It is also important to follow the dietary recommendations, sent with every shipment.