Man behind Asia’s biggest news alliance
ANN co-founder Suthichai Yoon puts faith in continent’s journalists, Zhang Haizhou reports.
After an early morning flight, back-toback meetings and a formal dinner, most people would be ready to call it a day. But not 69-year-old Suthichai Yoon.
The drive that motivated him in 1998 to co-found Asia’s largest news alliance, Asia News Network, shortly after the Asian financial crisis got going, was very much in evidence during his first trip to Nanning in southwestern China’s Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.
With a sprightly tone in his voice, he turned to his 32-yearold local host for the mid-September trip and asked: “Do you have a bar area here? You know, where young people go for a drink.”
Thirty minutes later, Suthichai was sitting in a local bar, nibbling on marinated duck tongue and sipping ice-cold beer. He began to talk about his experience as a newspaperman and his efforts to raise the profile of Asian media on the world stage.
Suthichai, also co-founder of Nation Multimedia Group, which publishes The Nation, an English-language newspaper in Bangkok, still writes a weekly opinion column, expressing his views on a wide range of issues, from Thailand’s domestic political and economic situation to topics such as the rise of the robots. China, especially in recent years, is a key country that Suthichai watches closely.
In late November, he had an exclusive interview with Chinese Ambassador Ning Fukui that covered hot topics between the two countries like railway construction and investment, and also delved into the ramifications of China’s economic transformation. Ning also spoke about China’s views on other regional and worldwide issues like disputes over sovereignty in the South China Sea and Beijing’s willingness to advance the global fight against terrorism.
The interview was remarkable in terms of China’s growing openness in communicating with the rest of the world through foreign media leaders like Suthichai, who had been turned away by the Chinese embassy in 2011 after he had flown to India to interview the 14th Dalai Lama.
Only a year after that, former Chinese vice minister of foreign affairs Fu Ying sat down for a one-on-one interview with Suthichai during her visit to Bangkok in June 2012.
In Nanning, Suthichai suggested that China “must work hard to remove suspicions about her intentions” to achieve collaboration with Southeast Asian countries in its efforts to launch the Belt and Road Initiative. The trade and infrastructure network aims to link China to Europe and other areas through the land-based Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road. The initiative, he said, “will provide a platform for information exchanges”.
Suthichai suggested that ANN members remain modest as well as curious while reporting on Asia, not losing sight of the long-term goal of ensuring the continent’s voice is heard on the world stage.
Promoting the exchange of information, especially among Asian media, has been a focus of much of Suthichai’s career.
ANN, consisting of 23 English-language newspapers from 21 countries and regions, including China Daily, aims to provide avenues for cooperation and to optimize the coverage of major news events in the region by Asian media organizations. Its motto is “We know Asia better”.
ANN is headquartered at the Bangkok offices of the Nation Multimedia Group. The media organization has a website, asianews.network, and produces a weekly digital news magazine, AsiaNews HD, featuring content from its members as well as the magazine’s reporters.
Suthichai recalled that ANN’s birth derived from a crisis, when most Southeast Asian countries, including Thailand, were engulfed by the Asian financial crisis beginning in July 1997.
“Our currencies devalued significantly against the dollar,” he said. “So we found the price for buying news content from international agencies almost doubled.”
Suthichai recalled discussing this issue with editors from a handful of other Asian newspapers, including The Jakarta Post in Indonesia and the Philippine Daily Inquirer. He then suggested: “Why don’t we exchange our news between us?”
The idea soon gained wide support. Not only because it would help the media groups save a fortune, but more importantly because they felt Asia’s local media does a better job of covering news from their own continent than their Western counterparts.
“So The Jakarta Post would supply us Indonesia’s stories, while we gave them stories about Thailand,” he said, citing an example.
Nearly 20 years later, media members of ANN are no longer satisfied with just the free exchange of content. More integrated and unconventional measures have been taken in recent years to enhance the influence and voice of Asia in the current multipolar world. The alliance recently revamped its website to offer more upto-date news and showcase a wider range of content, including news, features and opinion pieces by member publications across the region.
The website also features articles offering members’ varied views on the continent’s more controversial issues, such as the disputes over islands in the South China Sea.
It also brings to global media and readers Asia’s own views on the region’s most recent and momentous issues, such as progress on the formation of the China-proposed Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
With such diverse news items appearing simultaneously on one site, ANN shows the world a significant level of unity within the continent, in spite of differences. Member newspapers also gathered this year to discuss the rapidly changing role of video content in the global media landscape.
ANN member events, like group tours and the Nanning forum, take place frequently to encourage more exchanges and understanding of each other’s home countries.
A Thai with Chinese heritage, born in Thailand’s southern province of Songkhla, Suthichai began working in journalism in the 1960s.
Though he did not possess any formal academic training, Suthichai’s enthusiasm led him initially to contribute heavily to the Bangkok Post’s comment pages. One day he decided to apply for a job at the publication.
Unlike most jobseekers who send their resume to the human resources department, the young Suthichai knocked on the editor’s door. At the time, the editor was reading a copy of the newspaper that had one of Suthichai’s articles in it. He got the job and began work as a reporter covering domestic and breaking news.
Suthichai left the newspaper after a few years to establish The Voice of the Nation. The paper was renamed The Nation in 1971.
Suthichai was not satisfied with running just a newspaper, so in 1987, he established The Nation Channel, the first 24-hour news channel in Thailand.
Although Suthichai is the key person behind the Nation Multimedia Group, he continues to write commentary and do profile stories about interesting people.
“Never give up writing,” is his oft-repeated advice to younger colleagues.
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Suthichai Yoon, co-founder of Asia’s largest news alliance, Asia News Network, delivers a speech at the Focus on China ASEAN Expo: Asia Media Forum in September in Nanning, capital of the Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region.