Thai junta's gag on media raises alarm, criticism

AP News
Posted: Jul 19, 2014 9:35 AM
Thai junta's gag on media raises alarm, criticism

BANGKOK (AP) — Critics and journalists raised concerns Saturday about the Thai military government's latest move to tighten its grip on the media by banning them from criticizing the junta's operations and threatening to immediately suspend the broadcast or publication of content that defies the order.

The National Council for Peace and Order issued an order late Friday prohibiting criticism by anyone on all forms of media against the operations of the junta and its personnel. It also asked media operators and "any other individuals" to refrain from disseminating content banned by the military government, including news and information that could create resistance against the junta.

The edict also prohibited interviews of academics, former civil servants or former employees of courts, judicial offices and independent organizations who could "give opinions in a manner that can inflict or worsen the conflict, distort information, create confusion in the society or lead to the use of violence."

Thai Journalists Association chairman Pradit Ruangdit said the junta's order could affect the people's rights to access news and information and may allow authorities to abuse their power in suspending the broadcast or publication violating the order.

"It is not clear if there will be any warnings, any steps or any approaches in determining the offense," Pradit said in a statement. "If there is an abuse of power and there is no check and balance process, it is more likely that this will create a bad impact."

He said the Thai Journalists Association would call a meeting next week with media executives and professionals to discuss and find a solution to the problem.

Friday's order was an amended, more comprehensive version of two previous edicts infringing on media freedom issued by the junta after the May 22 military coup. Shortly before that, the military, exercising provisions under martial law, ordered a closedown of 14 partisan television networks — both pro- and anti-government stations — and nearly 3,000 unlicensed community radio stations across Thailand.

Critics said the order to censor all forms of media was expansive and contradicted the message the coup leader, Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, has attempted to send to the Thai people.

"Gen. Prayuth said on his televised program, repeatedly since the coup, to urge those who disagreed with his views to open up their mind and talk, but this announcement says the opposite," said Phansasiri Kularb, a journalism lecturer at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok. "The order is very broad and ... every comment is subject exclusively to the NCPO's interpretation whether they violate the order or not."

Online media freedom advocate Sarinee Achavanuntakul said ordinary citizens who express their views on social media also would suffer from the junta's grip.

"This is basically a gag order, and it's not just a gag order to the press, but it's extending to anyone in Thailand, especially now that a lot of Thai people use social media to express opinions," said Sarinee, who co-founded Thai Netizen Network, Thailand's first Internet freedom civil society group. "I think it is very dangerous and, to me, it signals that the coup makers may not have a clear idea of who the enemies are."

A junta spokesman contacted by The Associated Press declined to comment on the issue.