The situation for journalists in Thailand has gone from bad to worse. Before the military coup last year, the press was under constant attack by then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Claiming defamation, he repeatedly filed lawsuits and censored the media. Since Sept. 19, 2006, the new regime has not only continued the intense intimidation but has strengthened its hold over journalists.
In a special report, “Thailand at a Crossroads,” the Committee to Protect Journalists (www.cpj.org) warned of the dangers facing the press and the public: “The junta has moved aggressively to control news and commentary on thousands of small community radio stations throughout Thailand, a nation where 80 percent of citizens get their news from broadcast outlets,” said Shawn W. Crispin, Asia Times Online’s Southeast Asia Editor.
Many changes, good and bad, have taken place in the past 15 years. From time to time, the press has been able to operate without interference.
“Not that long ago, in the early 1990s — when democracy seemed to be on a march across much of Southeast Asia — Thailand’s freewheeling print and emerging broadcast media were viewed as regional models of press freedom,” the report states. “Hard-hitting Thai newspaper reports were pivotal in turning public sentiment against the previous military dictatorship, resulting in the fateful 1992 street demonstrations that eventually led to democratic reform.”
The months ahead are critical for all of Thailand. Much depends on a new constitution and the hope of open elections later this year. In the meantime, authorities show no signs of letting up. No doubt they will continue to manage the media as they have done thus far.
State of the media
•Three radio stations were immediately shut down in mid-May after airing an interview with the former prime minister, who was deposed during the military coup. Authorities charged the stations with violating national security.
•Two television talk show hosts were sentenced in April to serve two years in prison for defaming a Bangkok deputy governor. Both men were found guilty of slander for telling viewers the governor accepted bribes from a construction company. The broadcasters are out on bail as they appeal the verdict.
•The Thai government censored a new television station in March after it had been on the air for only 10 hours. The company was broadcasting by satellite from headquarters in Hong Kong. Officials said owners did not obtain the proper licenses. Programming quickly resumed after station executives teamed up with an existing Thai satellite broadcaster.
•A story in the Bangkok Post says reporters are selling watches, jewelry, amulets, beauty products and snacks in order to make ends meet. Broadcast journalists for Thailand Independent Television (TITV) claim moonlighting is necessary because they are not being paid. The government seized control of the station in March. As a result, no one knows whether the reporters should be classified as civil servants or station employees. “‘I am not embarrassed. People made jokes at first, but when they know I am a TITV reporter, they understand that we have been working unpaid,’ said Thanyathorn Sarasit, 24.”
•The Kingdom was created in the 14th century and was known as Siam until 1939.
•Thailand is the only country in Southeast Asia never to be controlled by a European nation.
•The country is bordered by Burma (Myanmar), Cambodia, Laos, Malaysia, the Andaman Sea on the west and the Gulf of Thailand to the east and south.
•There are 76 provinces; Bangkok is the capital.
•Total population is slightly more than 65 million; about 500,000 suffer from HIV/AIDS, according to the U.S. government.
•The economy was strong in 2002-04 but has lagged in recent years because of the tsunami (December 2004) and the coup (September 2006).
•The birthday of King Phumiphon, Dec. 5 (1927), is a national holiday.