Man be­hind Asia’s big­gest news al­liance

ANN co-founder Suthichai Yoon puts faith in con­ti­nent’s jour­nal­ists, Zhang Haizhou re­ports.

China Daily (Canada) - - EXPATS -

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.

Con­tact the writer at zhang­haizhou@chi­nadaily.com.cn

HUO YAN / CHINA DAILY

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.

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