It is well-known that reporting in Thailand, whether by locals or foreign journalists, requires self-censorship on the monarchy. It is demanded of locals with the threat of the lese majeste law. Self-censorship has long been expected of foreign journalists, through the threat of the same law but also through control of work permits.
In the past, there was a often a rather too cozy relationship between foreign correspondents based in Thailand, the palace and the authorities. When journalists were based long-term in Thailand, issues of residency were especially important for the journalists and their employers.
We are generalizing, of course, but those who have been around for a while know the pattern that existed.
Like so much else, that relationship changed as technology, communications and the media was transformed and as the nature of journalism has moved on from the pre-digital age. It also changed as the political divide in Thailand deepened from the mid-2000s and foreign journalists – at least some of them – had “eye-opening” political experiences and scales lost.
Thailand’s establishment of royalists, tycoons and military dinosaurs want to re-establish the past relationship.
They believe that many of the “problems” they perceive regarding the decline of the monarchy’s standing is the fault of foreign journalists who lack a proper understanding of royalist rules and mores. They believe they can do this by controlling the work permits and visas and thus limit access to Thailand. By limiting access, they think they can recreate the patrimonial relationships of the past that produced the laudatory reporting they liked.
As The Nation reports, journalists now know that “in order to be granted a journalist visa to work in Thailand, foreign media representatives now need to show their attitude toward the monarchy and political development in the Kingdom….”.
The Foreign Ministry’s new royal protection rules have been defended by Minister Don Pramudwinai, “saying that the move would prevent negative reporting about Thailand.” Learning from China, perhaps, the Ministry is “upset over reports from foreign media about political developments in Thailand, and particularly about the role of the monarchy…”.
Foreign journalists who apply for visas are now to be quizzed on their “political attitude – and notably, their thoughts about the Thai monarchy.”
Sounding like the representative of the authoritarian state – yes, he is – “Don said the new regulation had been issued to ‘regulate’ working journalists in Thailand and get rid of ‘unreal’ journalists.” Then like authoritarians everywhere he babbled that the “government [he means military junta] has no intention of limiting freedom of the press … adding that Thailand is the freest media society in the region.”
Both statements are lies. Thailand is being reversed into a very dark place by an elite that is protective of a corrupt and exploitative social order.