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Phansasiri Kularb-Reporting Thailand's Southern Conflict Mediating Political Dissent (Rethinking Southeast Asia Series)


Book Review of Phansasiri Kularb: Reporting Thailand’s Southern Conflict: Mediating Political Dissent (Routledge Rethinking Southeast Asia Series)
Oktober 2018
Nr. 149
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ASIEN 149 (Oktober 2018), S. 137154
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Rezensionen 139
as the basis of the Bangladesh nation. It proposed that the government and courts should
more often be in favour of capital punishment for islamists, who conducted war crimes
during the Bangladesh independence war of 1971. The other movement, organised mainly
by a federation of madrassah school teachers (Hefazat-i-Islam), accused the SM to insult
Islam and proposed to introduce a strong blasphemy law, which should include capital
punishment for blaspheming acts (p. 110). Riaz concludes that for the first time in the
history of Bangladesh these two movements “presented themselves as an existential threat to
each other” (p. 112). Both movements used a “rhetoric of violence”, which can cause “real
violence” (p. 36).
Ali Riaz notes three threats for social and political democratic inclusive institutions:
a) antidemocratic, militant and terroristic Islamistic groups; b) radical, intolerant secular-
nationalistic forces; c) the ruling AL-government, which intensifies its fight after a period
of passiveness against islamistic terror groups but also extends its “authoritarian” policies
against all forms of nonviolent opposition (p. 259 f.). The author vehemently advocates to
establish closer links between democratic, non-violent moderate secular groups and the
moderate, syncretic, spiritual non-violent stream of Islam in Bangladesh, which has a long
tradition and is up to now socially deep rooted.
The book provides an excellent introduction to different aspects of islamisation in Bangla-
desh and interesting insights, statistical data and fresh information about it. It also offers
general theoretical tools for analysing socio-cultural dynamics of identity policies and is
useful for scholars of islamisation, South Asia, as well as journalists and other interested
Dieter Reinhardt
Phansasiri Kularb: Reporting Thailand’s Southern Conflict: Mediating Political
Dissent (Rethinking Southeast Asia Series)
New York: Routledge, 2016. 185 pp., 170 USD (hardback), 54.59 USD (paperback)
In Thailand’s Deep South (Yala, Narathiwas, Pattani, and parts of Songkhla), ethnic Malay
insurgency groups have been waging violence for self-determination and separation for
decades. The conflict dates back to the annexing of today’s southern Thailand from Malay-
sia but exploded in 2004 and caught fire again recently.
The southern conflict receives surprisingly little attention internationally, despite its striking
similarities with other ethnoreligious conflicts in the region. More surprising, however, is
that the conflict receives little attention domestically, too. In “Reporting Thailand’s South-
ern Conflict”, Phansasiri Kularb sketches out a possible reason for the paradoxical neglect: a
media reporting that is dominated by a particular discourse controlled by Bangkok’s elite. In
the book, Kularb, who is a journalism lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, analyzes inter-
views with journalists and news editors reporting on the southern conflict, as well as several
hundred news reports from media outlets published between 2004 and 2010. The result is a
detailed and rich analysis of the existing media discourses surrounding Thailand’s southern
conflict, their origins and implications for the conflict.
In the introductory chapter, three distinct discourses, which Kularb calls “media frames”, are
examined, which are also the analytical categories used throughout the book. First, “crime
and conspiracy” identified as the dominant frame propagates that “[…] local vested
interest groups-organized crime syndicates involved in illegal drug cross-border trades and
140 ASIEN 149 (Oktober 2018)
human trafficking as well as state officials and influential local politicians teamed up to stir
up unrest in the region to gain and protect their interests” (p. 4). Contrarily, the “minority’s
grievances” discourse presents the conflict as a local revolt against the “central ruling
structure” that denies the disenfranchised Malay Muslims their political and cultural identity
(p. 5). The third media frame understands the conflict’s causes as rooted in ideological
differences between “Islamism” and Thai-Buddhism. Chapter two presents the quantitative
data and depicts frequency tables and joint distributions. Here, Kularb finds that the crime
and conspiracy theme dominated reports in all seven years and that there was a decline in
interest in the conflict measured by story length and number of sources, “[…] particularly in
the reports produced by national-level commercial media” (p. 49). Chapter three zooms into
the work of journalists in the conflict zone as well as the Bangkok newsrooms. It describes
the realities of the (powerless) journalists in the field and the sales-driven editors in the
newsroom. Kularb does a good job in convincing the reader that the “Bangkok-centric news
priorities(McCargo) of the media and the situation for journalists on the ground creates
several dilemmas for journalists who report from the south. One of them is that outlets are
not interested in others than the crime and conspiracy stories, and, at the same time, local
residents blame journalists on the ground for inaccurate reporting. Following Kularb, this is
what in the end accounts for the Thai public’s “lack of understanding” (p. 59). In this envi-
ronment, self-censorship becomes common practice, neutrality is difficult to maintain, and
first-hand information is hard to come by for journalists. Chapter four moves to the sources
of local reports. What strikes me here is that from 2,237 stated sources, 0% have been the
families of victims and in only 6% of the sources, community members were cited (p. 83).
Consequently, the top three sources were the military, the police, and the local government.
In light of these numbers, it seems obvious why the crime and conspiracy discourse is so
prevalent. Others “[…] with expertise in […] the subjects that are relevant to the minority’s
grievances and the Malay nationalism and Islamism discourses feature far fewer.” (p. 84)
Chapter five is concerned with the journalists’ own understandings of the conflict, while the
concluding chapter ties the previous findings in with the broader debate on the southern
conflict and the media’s role in it.
The book is important because it looks at the deep south from the perspective of journalists
and the news media, whose role in it is not very well understood. For those readers primarily
interested in the conflict and the role of the media, this is a good reference point. For other
readers, however, this book might be too narrow in its outlook. First of all, Kularb does not
make a theoretical contribution that could travel easily to other places or would enable us to
draw comparisons with conflicts elsewhere. In the same vein, lessons for other Southeast
Asian nations facing conflicts one might deem comparable, such as in the Philippines or
Myanmar, are not raised by the author. Second, some sections of the book come across
overly convoluted and lack an accessible writing-style. This is particularly the case in
chapter two, in which two other points are striking too. First, the frequency tables that ought
to demonstrate the evolution of news reporting over the years lack a time axis. Instead, the
data from seven years of conflict are lumped together into one category and treated as if they
were cross-sectional data. Hence, the reader has to believe the author when she says that
there has not been a change in the media frames employed. Second, the news data is pre-
sented without links to particular (violent) episodes and events. But this kind of data triangu-
lation would be needed to answer questions regarding the evolution of news reporting
effectively. The reader can only guess what effect a violent event might have had on report-
Andy Buschmann
ASIEN 149 (Oktober 2018), S. 165167
Evgenia An,
Research Assistant and PhD Candidate, Interdisciplinary Center for East Asian Studies
(IZO), Institute of Sociology, Goethe University Frankfurt;
Anastasia Bayok,
Postdoctoral Fellow, Einstein Visiting Fellow Plus Project, Graduate School of East Asian
Studies (GEAS), Freie Universität Berlin;
Peter Bernardi,
Projektmanager E-Learning/Mediendidaktik, Carl Duisberg Centren gGmbH;
Andy Buschmann,
Doctoral Student, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor;
Prof. Dr. Javier Revilla Diez,
Professor am Geographischen Institut, Universität zu Köln;
Andreas Eder-Ramsauer,
Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter, TU Berlin;
Nana Okura Gagné,
Assistant Professor, The Chinese University of Hong Kong;
Julia Gerster,
Researcher, Tohoku University, International Research Institute of Disaster Science
(IRIDeS), Disaster Digital Archive Archive Section;
Carolin Kautz, M.
Wiss. Mitarbeiterin Ostasiatisches Seminar, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen;
Michael Koch,
Master of Science, Universität zu Köln;
Uwe Kotzel,
Bibliotheksleiter GIGA-IAS, Hamburg;
Prof. Dr. Frauke Kraas,
Lehrstuhl für Anthropogeographie, Geographisches Institut der Universität zu Köln;
Dr. Jaok Kwon-Hein,
Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin, Zentrum für Ostasienwissenschaften, Universität
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Lafrenz,
Professor für Kulturgeographie (i.
R.), Universität Hamburg; lafrenz@geowiss.uni-
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