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I see Thailand through eyes warped by my Australian–Malaysian upbringing. The art, the nightlife, the politics, the journalism practices are all filtered through my pre-existing beliefs.

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A completely different type of art at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Photo by Ada Lee

When Tanya Plibersek made a passing swipe at Thailand’s death penalty laws in parliament last week, I saw it as an opportunity to pitch a story looking at the issue in Thailand.

I wasn’t sure it was particularly newsworthy or timely, but my editors commissioned it nevertheless. Back home, crowds rally in defence of the Bali Nine men facing execution in Indonesia. But here, as I would soon find, the death penalty is far more divisive.

“Drug traffickers destroyed the future of youths and ruined millions of family worldwide! What form of punishment they deserve for such heinous crimes?” one commenter said on my death penalty article.

For the story, I found myself calling (often multiple times) prominent human rights activists and I was also able to get a statement from the lovely people I met at the Australian embassy.

I also managed to get an interview with an English-speaking representative from the Office of Narcotics Control Board after several phone calls, but by the time it was finalised, my article had already gone to print (although I do wish I’d been able to cover the alternate perspective).

The more I researched previous legislative changes and government declarations, the more I realised the complexity of the death penalty issue in Thailand.

As I’ve written previously, the best way to understand a culture is to immerse yourself in it. The same can be said of any topic you’re called to report on.

In Australia’s diminishing newsrooms, journalists are required to be experts in Liberal party internal politics, the state of the NSW transport system, meta-data, Stephen Sondheim musicals, Kurtley Beale’s reputation in rugby, the national interest rate and the latest fashion trends.

Such was lamented by two Sydney Morning Herald editors on Twitter:

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Skilful screenshot by Ada Lee

The Bangkok Post is starkly different. Each news reporter is assigned a different government ministry or area to specialise in. For example, Ann, a journalist I met on the first day, reports on everything relating to the National Anti-Corruption Committee. Another might specialise in drug reporting or international treaties.

I think I prefer it this way. Having expertise in one topic can only make for better reporting. Specialised journalists can detect when an interviewee is evading an issue, they know which questions to ask, and they are able to find the ‘new’ development.

Something I’ve struggled with is deciding which angle to pick. I’ve just finished writing a story on the Thailand Migration Report, released by various UN agencies. To me, almost all the issues — children of migrants, reproductive health, human trafficking, government policies — seem new. So trying to find something not already reported on requires a lot of extra research.

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Feeling inadequate amid UN employees at the Thailand Migration Report launch. Photo by Ada Lee

I doubt I’ll become an expert in Thailand or its endless list of issues after just six weeks here. But I do hope, in whatever field I end up in, I’ll be given the freedom to dig beyond superficial knowledge.

About the Blog

Parallax records the experiences of final year students of the B.A. (Media & Communications) degree who have won competitive overseas internships to work in Asian, Indian and Latin American media organisations.
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