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Thailand's front page horror show

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

“Just the head alone? Hanging down like that? We didn’t need to see that picture,” Yubol said.

Still, as U.S. and other Western newspapers are withering, many Thai papers and their counterparts across Asia are thriving. Thailand’s most popular paper, Thai Rath, claims more than 1.2 million copies sold each day and as many as 25 million readers, who often pass the paper to friends and relatives.

Thai Rath publishes a mix of breaking news, political commentary, soap opera gossip and tales of the weird, such as a May 10 story of a villager gone berserk with a samurai sword. It far outpaces the roughly 80,000-circulation Matichon, a more-measured paper preferred by educated Thais. Outside of business-focused publications, other newspapers largely follow Thai Rath’s sensational mold.

“We have rural and urban people in Thailand, a variety of education levels,” said Kissada Kamyoung, a doctorate student studying comparative literature. “I don’t like the criminal pictures. To have breakfast in the morning and see that? Ugh.”

Newspaper buyers’ tolerance for gore can seem at odds with Westerners’ stereotype of Thais as ever-smiling, peaceful Buddhists. But as early as grade school, Thai children begin learning that “gerd, gae, jeb, dtai” — birth, aging, pain and death — are inevitable.

Perhaps Thai people, Ratchanee said, are more comfortable staring death in the face. “It’s a truth no one can run away from,” she said.

The academics petitioning Thai newspapers from “going overboard” with hardcore images will stop short of proposing government intervention, Yubol said. They still promote press freedom and acknowledge that, ultimately, the choice lies with publishers.

“They need something better than another law,” Yubol said. “They need ethics.”

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