Reflections on my media analysis of biomass reporting in Thailand

“Do you know how many city dwellers know where the electricity they use is generated and how it’s delivered to their houses? They don’t really know,” one of the newspaper editors told me when we talked about mainstreaming renewable energy in Thai media.

I nodded and, as a city dweller, I kind of agreed with her. If I had not been a journalist reporting stories of hydropower dams in Laos, I would not have known where the electricity comes from.

Last month, I got an opportunity to conduct a research on the reportage of Thailand’s biomass community-owned power scheme in order to understand how Thai news sites present and shape a discussion on this issue, including the factors that affect their reportages.

In this research, I have learned that urban and rural inhabitants are concerned with energy and its environmental and social impacts to different degrees. Energy-related issues seem not to be a priority for anyone, particularly city dwellers who have rarely discussed how electricity they use in their houses, offices and shopping malls are being generated. Since all of the power plants in Thailand are located in remote spaces, all of us are exploiting natural resources from rural areas for the country’s economic development without inclusively considering its impacts to local communities. On the other hand, affected communities are curious about how clean biomass energy is, and afraid of the environmental and social changes that will mainly and severely affect their livelihood. As a result, this reflects in how national and local news outlets differently perceive and shape the discussions on biomass.

The research findings have reminded me of the concept of environmental injustice, or the disproportionate impact of environmental harm on some communities such as indegenious peoples and ethnic minorities. To transition to clean energy, we, as active citizens, have to think critically and inclusively of how biomass and other renewables policies will positively and negatively result in the subsistence of different social groups. In this regard, the media can trigger their audiences to question about the energy consumption in their daily life and its socio-economic impacts to different social groups based on their intersecting identities such as gender, age, and ethnicity, and how the country is able to move to sustainable energy and leave no one behind.

Local villagers gathered to express their opposition on the construction of a sugar factory and a biomass power plant in Roi Et Province (Photo credit: The Isaan Record)

Reflections on the Research Process

My biggest challenge during this research process was removing my own bias from the research, from the process of selecting news sites, articles and interviewees to the analysis process. To tackle the bias, I, as a researcher, had to clarify why six news sites and five journalists and editors in this study were selected. To do this, I researched the purpose of each site and interviewees’ affiliation, positions, and experience before choosing them.

In addition, to conduct interviews, I had to be open-minded, transparent and aware of power relations between the researcher and the interviewees because the interviewees might have different views on renewable energy, and those views are also different from mine. As I came with the research’s agenda, I informed the interviewees about the methodology I employed in this research and how the data would be analysed in order to make them feel comfortable to allow me to get into their journalistic culture and practices. The 2-week workshop organised by Climate Tracker before the research started was very helpful for the data collection process and made all the interviews run smoothly.

Moving towards the collaboration between research institutions and journalists

Fortunately, this research allows me to have deep conversations with editors and journalists from various outlets, see the whole picture of media coverage of renewable energy, and understand the structural challenges to energy reporting. This is very useful for my current position as a communication assistant in an international research institution. As I found that early-career journalists lack the necessary network with scientists and have limited access to research papers, I would love to bridge scientists, researchers and journalists through supporting them with scientific research and building a strong network of climate and environmental journalists in order to help find fresh angles of energy stories and shape the public debate.

Kade Thossaphonpasian
Comms Assistant @SEIresearch Asia, Part-time activist, Interested in global dev, gender, free speech, digital rights, and #ICT4Dev. Views are my own.