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Thailand's front page horror show

Academics try to tame Thai newspapers' taste for gruesome page-one photos

BANGKOK — Each morning, Thailand’s newspaper racks offer a gallery of gore.

Few days pass without a corpse, face-down and blood-soaked, appearing on Thai newspapers’ front pages. Equally common are accident scenes, with unlucky drivers spilling lifelessly from their totaled cars.

The most recent Sunday edition of popular newspaper Khao Sod decorated its front page with this sensational cocktail: a meth dealer splayed dead beside a toilet, a married couple shot dead and slumped in their pick-up truck — and for comic relief, photos exposing a con artist who donned flight uniforms to deceive shopkeepers and women.

“They’re just trying to sell papers,” said Ratchanee Poowong, a Bangkok auto parts dealer. “The photos do attract your attention. You wonder, ay, what’s all this about?”

Now, a group of academics is petitioning Thai papers to choose restraint over grisly voyeurism. The professors, from six Thai universities, present a familiar set of complaints. Beyond arguing on grounds of taste, they say these images corrupt children or needlessly shame victims of violent crime.

Their campaign to tame the front page will be hard to win, said Yubol Benjarongkij, dean of the communication arts department at Bangkok’s Chulalongkorn University.

“I won’t say we’ll be successful,” she said. “The (publishers) think these picture make big sales. It’s hard to change that belief.”

Even against a daily backdrop of crime scene photos, recent published images went beyond the pale, Yubol said. The professor was dismayed by pictures of charred bodies outside of the burned-down Santika dance hall, which made global headlines in January.

She was equally disturbed by photos of a suicide-by-hanging off the busy Rama IV bridge. Newspapers ran photos of the man’s decapitated head, severed by inertia after the jump and swinging eerily over onlookers below.