Early newspapers in Thailand were always a hit or miss proposition. However, that did not stop several stalwarts from trying. The first newspaper in any language began in 1844 by Dr. Dan Beach Bradley, an expat who lived here for 35 years. Called ‘The Bangkok Recorder’, it was printed in Thai and English. But the English version only lasted a year and ended due to a poor distribution system. The Thai version was shut down due to lack of interest. Other newspapers were issued by the Thai government throughout the 19th century, but due to the low literacy rate among Thais at the time all were eventually closed.
Actually the oldest newspaper in Thailand is called ‘Royal Thai Government Gazette’. It started its publication in 1858 and is still in publication. In 1864, Mr. J. H. Chandler, published an English -language weekly paper called ‘The Bangkok Times.’ It also lasted a year, shut down by a successful lawsuit for libel brought by an irate reader.
In 1887 Mr. T. Lloyd-Williamese relaunched ‘The Bangkok Times’. This started as a weekly. It soon became extremely popular, so it was published bi-weekly. Its success spawned a competitor called the ‘Siam Free Press’ that started in 1891. Although printed in English, it was primarily aimed at the French community. By 1900 ‘The Bangkok Times’ had grown to a six -page broadsheet with the largest circulation of any newspaper. It appeared Monday through Saturday. Although ostensibly an information source, three -quarters of each issue was devoted to advertisements. In fact, the whole front page was devoted to small advertisements much like today’s classified ads.
As the city saw exponential growth and a continuous rise in the number of expats, more newspapers were started. The ‘Siam Observer’ saw its first edition out in 1903. Other English -language newspapers at the time included the ‘Globe’ and the ‘Black and White Budget’. Most foreign news came from Reuters telegrams. Sometimes the telegrams were days out of date after the event and often out of sequence. Major stories were all gleaned and re-written from overseas newspapers, magazines, and periodicals that arrived by steamship. Entertainment was always the most important factor, the truth snuck in occasionally.
Several commentators observed back then that all the newspapers worked in complete harmony with the government. They are very well supplied with official news. But it was also an open secret that the papers received government subsidies. This prevented lawsuits for libel from being brought, forcing the paper to shut down. These government subsidies also laid the groundwork for the policy of ‘prior restraint’ or self-censorship. This policy has continued all throughout the 20th century until today. However, this did not stop individual reporters from editorialising.
‘The Bangkok Times’ lasted until 1941 when it was shuttered by the Japanese during WWII. It never reopened. In 1946, the ‘Bangkok Post’ was started by Alexander MacDonald. In 1970 ‘The Nation’ newspaper started publication in 1970. Only they remain although The Nation is now online.