Pravit Rojanaphruk at The Nation has a revealing story about the nature of the military regime. He writes of how the dictatorship is attempting to direct foreign news reporting on Thailand, the monarchy and the junta.
In its usual manner, this is no subtle attempt to shape the news, but a blunt series of threats.
As is well-known, the military dictatorship seeks to control the local media through blustering threats from The Dictator, censorship, demanding self-censorship, “investigations” by the Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, visits from the military, “calling in” by the authorities and by closing “opposition” media. The combination of threat, censorship and not a small amount of anti-democrat sentiment amongst editors and media owners has been quite successful.
The foreign media has been more difficult to control. In the past, foreign correspondents reporting on Thailand were based in Bangkok and made their careers there. As a result, they tended to “know the limits,” and seldom pushed them. This was most significant in the uncritical “reporting” internationally of palace propaganda. There were occasional blow-ups between the authorities and foreign reporters, but the relationship was generally maintained.
In recent years, as the nature of the international media and media technology has changed, it has become increasingly difficult to maintain this comfortable and uncritical relationship. This has been amplified as Thailand’s underlying political disputes have exploded over the past 15 years.
The foreign media became caught up in recent political conflicts, with the campaigning anti-democrats and their military and palace allies considering that the reporting of, for example, the 2010 red shirt protests and the monarchy was becoming “too critical,” “biased” and even “pro-Thaksin,” with claims that Thaksin Shinawatra had “bought” foreign media.
From PPT’s point of view, what had happened was that the scales had fallen from the eyes of some in the media. At the same time, journalists who were more peripatetic and not so beholden to the Thai ruling elite were more difficult for that elite to “manage.”
According to Pravit’s informants, the military dictatorship has decided to end this “problem” by enforcing more control on the foreign media by threatening visas and accreditation.
As Pravit says, this “important issue” has “barely made the news in Thailand.” He says “Reuters recently reported that some foreign journalists were finding it very difficult to get their accreditation. However, it also cited a flat denial from the Foreign Ministry that it was making things difficult.”
Pravit cites a “veteran foreign correspondent” states that “the government wants to ensure that foreign correspondents are not too critical about two issues – the military regime and the monarchy.” That reporter knew that applicants for accreditation “are asked two questions during their work-permit interview by the Foreign Ministry. The first is on their thoughts about the monarchy and the other is about their views on the coup and the current government.”
Thai embassies overseas are getting in on this act too. Not only are they opposing academic-activist events and chasing down lese majeste “suspects,” but are “shaping” journalists and telling foreign editors what the regime expects.
As Pravit observes, “the government wants foreign journalists who are accommodating to the junta and reverent to the monarchy.”
Update: Readers might be interested in this report on the same subject, with a little more detail.