Trampling remaining freedoms I

30 07 2021

Earlier this month, six of the country’s media associations called upon the regime to reconsider the new media measures, worried that they would be use “to censor media coverage and infringe on the public’s freedom of expression.”

Those demands were not just ignored, but Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, as premier, has instructed “relevant authorities to strictly enforce the new measures against the media, influencers and social media figures, among others.” As a result, the associations concluded:

1. The Prime Minister’s insistence on enforcing the new measures, along with the recent attempts by his government to intimidate and take legal action against members of the public who simply exercise their constitutional rights to criticize the administration during the Covid-19 pandemic, clearly reveal an intent to crack down on the freedom of expression enjoyed by the media and the public.

2. The government’s assertion that the new measures are necessary to tackle what it terms “fake news” shows its refusal to acknowledge the administration’s failure in its communications with the public….

3. We call upon all professionals in the media and news agencies to stand in unison and oppose the government’s new measures. We also urge the media establishment to take utmost care to ensure that their news coverage is accurate and compliant with the highest journalistic standards — in order to deny the government any excuse to interfere with media operations, which will in turn affect the public’s right to information.

The regime’s response is to “double … down in its campaign against so-called ‘fake news’, shrugging off complaints by Thai media organisations…”. Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakmanusorn said “the anti-fake news committee has set up a special working group to combat misinformation on social media via administrative, tax and social measures.”

Essentially, the regime has “barred media from disseminating [so-called] fake or distorted news and news that could stir fear regarding the COVID-19 outbreak, effective from today (Friday), with a threat of censorship if violations are made.”

Gen Prayuth has “signed the restriction order, which was published in the Royal Gazette yesterday. According to the order, the media are banned from publishing and broadcasting information that incites fear or with intent to twist the information and cause confusion, which may affect national security and stability.” In other words, the regime has given itself the power to ban all reporting and social media commentary it does not like.

Like the dark days under military dictatorships of previous decades, the regime is deliberately vague in its definitions so as to instill fear:

Fears for journalists and news organizations are real and the consequences of the new decree can be existential. News organizations must now navigate—not only a vaguely worded definition of what is considered fake news—but a hostile regulatory environment where an array of agencies could be actively targeting them in a bid to silence legitimate critique of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thai journalists, who often work long hours for low pay, could be swayed by the possibility of a lengthy prison term and a substantial fine. Self-censorship among journalists … is likely to increase.

Most worrisome for news editors is the second guessing that might accompany editorial decision-making on pandemic-related news or information that is critical of the government. A severe consequence is that the government clearly wants to silence and penalize any news organization or journalist that publishes information that runs contrary to the government’s sensibilities—even if the information has been verified and deemed wholly accurate.

The regime’s “new decree doesn’t differentiate between the truth and fake news…”.

Cod Satrusayang states that this is “the move of a desperate government that has lost much of its legitimacy and all of its trust with the people that it has failed.” He continues:

This is Prayut now, defeated but still defiant (or perhaps oblivious) to the truth. We should not expect any better because this was a government that seized power through a military coup. It is run by military men – incapable of any governance that relies on consent and not conscription. This latest move shows the Thai military is not one of strength but subjugation.

We, the media and the people, can and must resist this latest proclamation.

The decree, he says, is Orwellian. Sadly, it is far worse than that. A desperate regime appears willing to do everything it can to stay in power, trampling freedoms and again standing on the bodies of the innocent dead.


Actions

Information

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.