Arts, Culture & Media

In Thailand, there's no Jon Stewart — just 'Shallow News in Depth'

Shallow news in depth screen capture.JPG

Credit: YouTube screen capture

"Shallow News in Depth" anchors Nattapong Tiendee (left) and Winyu Wongsurawat in a segment from the February 26, 2014 episode.

In Thailand, protesters are calling for the prime minister's resignation and street rallies have turned deadly. So how do journalists cover the anti-government protests, without running afoul of the government? Try Shallow News in Depth — an online parody newscast.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

The show uses sarcasm and slapstick comedy to comment on the current political situation. And while that may be old hat to American fans of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, it is unusual for Thailand.

Rosie Wongsurawat, the lead writer and producer of Shallow News in Depth in Bangkok, is flattered by the Jon Stewart comparison. But she says it's not really accurate.

"We're more like cartoon characters," she says. The show features two anchors (one is Wongsurawat's brother) wearing sunglasses who rapidly shout out their lines over an abundance of goofy sound effects and amateur-made graphics.

Yes, the show is trying to get laughs, Wongsurawat says, but it is also a way to protect the show from government criticism. 

"We don't actually come out and say 'You're bad,' you know? That's why the sarcasm. You're sarcastic, so, technically, you don't actually say anything bad about anybody," she explains. 

And the format helps government officials take the show less seriously. "The thing is that, if you are kind of like a cartoon character and you smile while you're speaking and you just act silly, [critics] cut you a lot of slack," Wongsurawat says. 

She says that Shallow News in Depth has also been able to be more controversial because it is only online and not on TV.  

"It's amazing we've never really gotten into trouble," Wongsurawat says. 

The only thing the show does not criticize is Thailand's monarchy — there is a strict law forbidding that. But everything else has been fair game for the staff. 

And while Wongsurawat has a laughter-filled explanation for just about everything on the show, she turns serious when talking about the media climate in Thailand. She says audiences and shows are completely polarized, "each side has their own media, and they only watch their own cable networks."

Shallow News in Depth recently reached a peak of over 100,000 viewers, but Wongsurawat doesn't believe the show is "an agent of change."

"We try to get people to be less emotional about the issues and, you know, actually talk about it in a civilized manner." 

And then she adds, "That's kind of funny, coming from us."

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