A retraction of my own | 12.08.05

Breaking a taboo in the Thai media, the Bangkok Post’s retraction of its story on Wednesday inspired me to look at my own blog, particularly the entry about the Post retraction. Perhaps not surprisingly, I found something I should retract, too.

I wrote:

Now this [a retraction] never happens in Thailand without someone getting sued. And even a litigation-induced retraction is usually billed discretely as an “announcement” and always placed on the most obscure spot possible (they always find one, even when the settlement terms require that the retraction be on the front page).

The Post retraction today is nothing like that. It is swift. It is clearly labeled “retraction”. It is on the front page, under a related lead story. So kudos to the Post for, today, being notches above the scum of the journalism.

I take back the last sentence.

Even though the Post eventually did the right thing, it very nearly didn’t. In an earlier copy, the retraction was a mere “correction”. The wording was much more equivocal, betraying more reluctance than repentance. And although this lame version appropriately never made it to print, it somehow slipped onto the Bangkok Post website, where it was picked up by a Google crawler before being removed (the page is now preserved for posterity in Spurl’s cache):

Correction

A press tour of the West Runway of Suvarnabhumi airport yesterday found no cracks in the middle of the runway as earlier reported by the Bangkok Post. There were small cracks on the shoulders near the touch-down points.

These may have been mistaken by the source for serious cracks on the main runway.

The Bangkok Post apologises for any inconvenience this report may have caused to all parties concerned.

Mistaken by the source? Mind you, this source said, and I’m quoting the Post lede, “a team of US aviation experts is insisting that both runways at Suvarnabhumi airport need reconstruction as there are severe cracks that are large enough to sink the nose wheel of an aircraft.” While the “experts” might have erred in their inspection (and what kind of expert would that be to mistake cracks besides a runway for ones on both runways?), the source, who purported to simply be relaying the “experts’” findings, had no right to be. Whoever wrote the “correction” knew that the whole deal about “US experts” (“reportedly brought in by the prime minister to give him an independent assessment,” the Post had told us) was an outright fraud, but he or she was trying to gloss over that.

Of course the final copy is much better. Less welcome, however, is that fact that, coming at the end of a story headlined “Authorities deny big runway cracks”, the retraction has both the headline and the lede buried in it. In an ethical newspaper, the headline would have read something like:

Press tour reveals no runway cracks

Bangkok Post retracts contrary report citing “US experts”, whose existence PM denies

Unfortunately, ethics and Thai journalism don’t mix.

So, all in all, the Bangkok Post deserves a grade-inflated B- from its retraction. Earlier I said that in retracting its story, the Post was “notches above the scum of journalism”; I now take back “notches”.

See, I’m capable of self-criticism, too.

PS Also in my last post, I never made it to writing the note that my “see note below” referred to. I’ll write it now.

The Bangkok Post’s retraction was the first I’ve ever seen. There was, however, another occasion I witnessed of the paper’s admitting a mistake. I’m not sure what to call it, since it never officially billed as a retraction or a correction. The admission was made in the “Postbag” (letters) space under the title “With regrets”. An apology, perhaps.

In December 2003 (if I remember correctly) the Bangkok Post reported that former PM Anand Panyarachun compared PM Thaksin’s management style to former Singaporean PM Lee Kuan Yew’s and commented that it would not work in Thailand. Khun Anand protested, saying that he had not been alluding to the Thai PM, and the Post quickly apologized. The paper’s tractability in this case might have something to do Khun Anand’s being a former chairman of the Post Publishing Group. I made a brief mention of this episode in the “Anand at the Fawning Correspondents’ Club entry.

PPS We still haven’t got to the “quotations” issue that left hanging at the end of my last post. Perhaps we never will.

20:45 ▪ media

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