Freedom vs. repression

8 09 2009

Yet another journalist questions the benefit of freedom for the media (see PPT’s earlier post). These journalists were among the first to justifiably complain when Thaksin Shinawatra was prime minister and he sought ways to limit the media. Now they are not so sure. In a “Commentary” in the Bangkok Post (8 September 2009: “Broadband no guarantee of broad mind”), Atiya Achakulwisut explains the “dilemma”:

“On the one hand, freedom of expression means Thaksin is entitled to impart his opinions without interference. As well, freedom of the press means that media professionals who believe it’s worth having Thaksin’s views heard in his or her programme, are entitled to do so, as long as those views do not amount to hate speech, an intentional attempt at disinformation, or an ungrounded smear campaign.”

But:

“On the other hand, considering the influence the former prime minister has over his followers and his ability to provoke a crowd and turn protesters into rioters – as evident during the Songkran melee – should he be given unquestioned air-time or unrestricted access to public broadcasts?”

She adds:

“The crucial question, it seems, is how ready the Thai public is for the age of information? The quest for truth has always been an arduous and elusive task. It is increasingly so now that you are faced with various versions of the truth in a short space of time.”

And believes:

“we have come a long way from the time when such propaganda as ‘it’s not sinful to kill communists’ or ‘demonstrators at Thammasat should be quashed because they are not Thai but Vietnamese’ could rouse people to take up arms and to go on a killing spree.”

But:

“are we ready as a nation to embrace the full force of the information explosion without some of us being blown apart?” *

PPT can only ask: why was it so easy to identify Thaksin’s attempts to muzzle the media but so difficult to see it when it is being done when a Democrat Party-led coalition isa in power? Why was it so easy to discern Thaksin’s slide into authoritarianism but not Abhisit Vejjajiva’s own penchant for authoritarian measures? Why the dilemma now?

* Interesting footnote: Atiya believes that “people [had] loved ones … killed during the Songkran riot…”. Has a mainstream journalist said this before? See New Mandala on this.


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