How to Humanise Energy Narratives in Thai Mainstream Media?

One of the biggest challenges, many Thai journalists told me, when covering energy news is that the audience doesn’t find such a story appealing.

Unless it’s about the spike in oil or gas prices or a face-off between local communities and energy investors over a development project, Thai energy narratives tend to fall off the public’s radar.

Even as the sector accounts for 14% of Thailand’s GDP and generates power and electricity fuelling Thai industries and society, not to mention, its impact on the nature and people, why energy narratives so unpopular — and unfamiliar — among the Thai public?

My 4-month research on Thai media coverage of coal and renewable energy, commissioned by Climate Tracker and Stanley Centre, found that Thai media outlets may have a role in it.

As a mediator between energy stakeholders and the public, Thai mainstream media largely frame energy stories through the eyes of the officials and corporates. That means the people’s voices and stories are made less salient, which, in my opinion, could lead to the public’s opaque views of the sector.

These policy/business-focused media narratives stem from the organisational structure of the mainstream outlets’ newsrooms. Energy news is categorised as part of the business desk. Reporters are assigned to cover daily updates at the energy ministries and then following up with businesses.

So it’s no surprise that those reports feature mainly quotations from one source and make government policy and business angles much more salient.

  1. Adopt an intersectional analysis of energy

Breaking away from the economic desk-based news-gathering is not an easy task. Such reform cannot be done by junior journalists alone as the editorial systems were usually put in place by those in the higher positions.

But what energy reporters can do is to ask some critical questions and essence of their own work:

What do I get from going to these daily conferences? What are the impact of energy policies and projects? Will the energy policies provide benefits for the people or the companies? What is really the gist here?

These questions may not lead to the structural change but offer them self reflection on the intersectionality of aspects — business strategies, government motivations, environmental and social impact and benefits and human-impact — that mobilise the energy sector.

With that consciousness, energy journalists can think of their given platforms outside the routine tasks of covering the ministries to explore the non-conventional topics. Some veteran Thai journalists use features or opinion pieces to discuss energy issues in greater details.

(Photo: Jack Board/ChannelNewsAsia)

2. Boost journalists’ energy literacy through trainings

But to offer the holistic understanding of energy issues for journalists, trainings organised by energy and media experts can provide as a window for those journalists to adopt a critical eye towards the sector.

More than half of journalists interviewed in this research admitted that they still don’t have enough knowledge on energy issues. Trainings on the overview of the Thai energy sector and its underlining issues will boost their confidence in producing contextual and balanced reports.

The trainings can also help them to find more angles and stories beyond the policy/business.

3. Adopt technological and solutions approaches

As the energy issues concerning everyday people’s involvement in the sector is less covered by the mainstream media, presenting energy issues through technological and innovative lens can boost people’s interests.

These frames are also associated with people’s economic impact as some technologies can reduce their costs for electricity and power usage.

The narratives will also encourage news consumers to participate in energy initiatives through the government-led programs or on their own experimentation.

As suggested by the editor of The Standard — a Thai digital only media —digital tools like Podcast, short-form video storytelling and explainer videos can raise the audience’s interest in energy issues.

Multimedia journalists can produce the stories about solutions to the energy issues and their innovators can also make news consumer relate to the topics more easily.

Along this line, I’d like to see support for a combination of digital techniques and solutions journalism as an integrated approach for news media to frame energy news, in order to inform the human elements of energy issues and increase alternative media narratives related to the sector.