Media freedom?

10 10 2013

PPT was quite surprised when reading a story at The Nation, purported to be one in a series commemorating the 14 October 1973 uprising, which stated:

AFTER THE October 14, 1973 student uprising, journalists successfully campaigned for the abrogation of an anti-press-freedom law.

Forty years have passed since then and all the draconian laws seen as inhibiting press freedoms have been abolished – but is the press really enjoying full freedom?

The story goes on to say a little about the fight to end state control of the media and the rise of business control. Little is said about the continuing state and military ownership, apart from a comment about state control through advertising budgets.

But where is comment about the lese majeste and computer crimes laws?112.jpg

More than any other law, Article 112 is a deadweight on the media, forcing remarkable self-censorship. No journalist wants to go to jail for 5, 10, 15 or even 20 years, so they and their bosses self-censor and censor.

The lese majeste law is also a deadweight on discussion more broadly, whether it is social media, academic debate or private discussions.

Surely any discussion of “draconian laws” must mention the political use of lese majeste and computer crimes or is even discussion of media freedom to be self-censored?

BBC on red shirts, lese majeste and media

2 03 2011

What Can I Say? has come to Thailand to discuss media freedom and censorship in Thailand. Here’s a bit of the blurb: “In Thailand, what part have illegal community radio stations had to play in the demonstrations by activists – red-shirt or yellow-shirt – that occupy opposite ends of the political spectrum?”

PPT has listened to the show and it is worth considering for all kinds of reasons, not least for the identification of Thaksin as a former president and the awful rendering of Thai names and places. Kavi Chongkittavorn is interviewed and sounds like he works for something other than The Nation…. The comments of Sulak Sivaraksa are characteristically challenging on race, ethnicity and the monarchy. The discussion on community radio is fascinating for interviews with red and yellow broadcasters.

Do take the time to listen to the 23-minute episode.

What’s up with Clinton?

4 02 2011

PPT was just watching CNN and saw a clip of U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton talking about media freedom in Egypt. We went off to the State Department’s website to see if we could get a written form. While looking for it, we found British Foreign Secretary William Hague complaining about the crackdown on the media.

We found the Clinton clip where she “condemns” in the “strongest terms” attacks on reporters in Egypt. She says this is a “violation of international norms.”

Is it just us or did she conveniently forget to do this kind of thing so publicly when the Abhisit Vejjajiva government was presiding over events that saw the shooting of several journalists, with several witnesses, including journalists, claiming that the military deliberately targeted them. We don’t recall her condemnation of the monstrous levels of media censorship in Thailand, which is on-going.

Readers should correct us if they know of anything like this statement for Egypt being made for Thailand.

Part of the propaganda benefit that the Thai government has in Washington is a long tradition of “advisers” telling the State Department that it is only the royal family that matters and that the monarchy is the source of stability. Even today, despite the clear evidence that the monarchy has destabilized Thailand’s politics over the past decade, there are academics with thin publication records who have moved from government to universities inside the Beltway and who regularly get inside the palace and in return provide the necessary propaganda as “advice.”

State itself hasn’t been very well served in Thailand. The ambassador at the time of the 2006 military coup was Ralph “Skip” Boyce, who was a supporter of the coup and essentially spoke for it and provided the appearance of U.S. acceptance of the coup. Boyce drew much of his information from yellow shirts, Democrat Party politicians and the patricians of the palace. Eric John tried to provide some more balance and was treated as an “enemy” of royalist Thailand. New ambassador Kristie Kennie is taking a much lower-key approach, judging by her blog that appears remarkably undergraduate and lightweight.


HRW on Thailand in 2010

28 01 2011

PPT is somewhat late on getting to the latest Human Rights Watch report on Thailand. In looking at the report and the media release, we wonder what is going on at HRW, for they appear to come from two very different organizations.

The press statement begins with a statement that the “government of Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva of Thailand failed to fulfill its pledges to hold human rights abusers accountable in 2010…”. It is added that: “Human rights in Thailand suffered a sharp and broad reverse in 2010.” This is incontestable.

The statement points out that:

the government used emergency powers to hold dissidents and critics without trial in unofficial places of detention and repeatedly failed to provide exact information about those held and their whereabouts…. Freedom of expression was a casualty of a far-reaching government censorship campaign that shut down thousands of websites and dozens of community radio stations, TV and satellite broadcasts, and publications….

During and after the anti-government protests, the Thai authorities responded with excessive force to violence committed by militant elements in the anti-government United Front of Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD)….

This HRW press release goes on to criticize the government’s failure to conduct an adequate and independent investigation into the violence of April and May 2010 and the lack of cooperation in investigations that have taken place, the political use of the emergency decree by CRES and its arbitrary use of emergency powers to harass political opponents. It adds: “… CRES also used emergency powers to hold some suspects without charge for extended periods in unofficial detention facilities, where there are inadequate safeguards against possible abuse in custody.” More worrying still is the National Human Rights Commission report “that many UDD detainees had experienced torture and forcible interrogations, arbitrary arrest and detention, and overcrowded detention facilities.

The press release continues by mentioning the government’s “rolling crackdown on peaceful political expression,” noting the “enforced to shut down more than 1,000 websites, a satellite television station, online television channels, publications, and more than 40 community radio stations, most of which are considered to be closely aligned with the UDD.”

Of course, it also notes that political use of the Computer Crimes Act and lese majeste to censor and “persecute dissidents.”

The press release also mentions the “chronic problems with police and security operations that use abusive tactics…. Officers responsible for horrendous misconduct have rarely faced punishment” and this is especially the case in the south.

As has been said many times, this government’s “human rights rhetoric in international forums is matched by action on the ground.”

But then this is the HRW country summary in the organization’s World Report 2011. This report does mention all of the human rights abuses noted in the press statement and singles out an “abusive anti-narcotics policy,” violence and human rights abuses in the south,
and justifiably makes the case on the Abhisit government’s abuse of refugees, asylum seekers, and migrant workers. Also covered are the abusive use of the emergency decree and powers of detention and the repression of media freedom and freedom of expression.

What concerns PPT in the report is the wholly one-sided account of the political violence of April-May 2010. HRW’s account may as well have been penned by Thailand’s acting government spokesman. Whoever is responsible for this account has failed to acknowledge the state’s responsibility in orchestrating violence against protesters and in so doing HRW appears to exonerate the state’s violence. It also manages to slip in yellow-hued accounts of events and speculation about “hardliners” and “moderates” within the UDD and the role of so-called black shirts in the UDD. At least the report does concede that the “military deployed snipers to shoot anyone who breached ‘no-go’  zones [actually termed live-fire zones].

HRW should be ashamed and concerned that it has allowed its report to be tainted by speculation and politically-driven accounts of the violence that diminishes the state’s role in the deadly events. It should examine the disparity between its press release and its account of political violence. As PPT repeatedly said at the time when pro-government sources made similar claims, if observers look at the body count its is clear which groups were targeted, and it was not state forces.

Heinrich Boll resources on media reform and democratization

25 01 2011

Last month, PPT posted about a recent report by iLaw about internet censorship and the ongoing constriction of speech in Thailand. The iLaw report was produced in conjunction with the Media for Democracy program of the Southeast Asia office of Heinrich Boll Stiftung.

PPT recently perused the Heinrich Boll website, and discovered a number of recent (second half of 2010) resources of interest:

Viva media freedom!

A yellow Thongbai should be red-faced

7 11 2010

Thongbai Thongpao was once a respected human rights lawyer who gained considerable credit by taking on difficult cases. It is indeed sad to see that, when he adopted a yellow-shirt to attack Thaksin Shinawatra, he seems to have thrown aside notions of fairness and logic. His most recent column in the Bangkok Post is positively embarrassing. It is embarrassing enough to get him a seat on the Constitutional Court.

Thongbai seems ticked off that Thailand’s ranking has dropped precipitately this past year in the world press freedom index. All Thongbai can mutter is that this fall beggars belief and “calls into question the validity of the survey.” By questioning the index in this way, Thongbai aligns himself with a bunch of despots and their cheer squads worldwide.

He gets his racist hat on to assert: “What the ranking tells us is that press freedom in Thailand is scant when measured against the yardstick of the West.” In fact, this statement seems ignorant of the headline comments made by Reporters Without Borders when releasing the index, when they drew attention specifically to failures and backsliding in Europe.

Worse is to come. Ignorance and slothfulness, for example, when Thongbai states: “I have not been able to learn the criteria used for compiling the index.” Perhaps he might have looked at the page that appears next to the index, here. Maybe Thongbai found the term “methodology” somehow misleading. Maybe he was just to lazy or ignorant to look for it. Or perhaps he knows it is there and is simply making things up.

He adds: “The plunge is attributed, rather simplistically, to the killings of two journalists and the injuries of some fifteen others during their field coverage of the clashes between the red shirt protesters and security forces in Bangkok in April and May.” That is simplistic. It seems having 17 journalists injured is unworthy of consideration.

Where has human rights lawyer Thongbai had his head buried of late? At best, if we are being polite, his comment is tasteless. It is “downright unfair,” he says, to factor in deaths of journalists. If that were the case, the Philippines would leap several dozen places. In fact, the journalists are themselves to blame for getting killed and injured by trying to get stories from conflict areas! Remember that Thongbai remains a self-described human rights lawyer….

Then human rights lawyer Thongbai prattles on about how great Thai laws are regarding human rights: “Without doubt, Thai laws provide for full respect of human rights, certainly no less than in Europe and the US. There is not a single law that condones restrictions on the freedom of the press…”.

Like Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya, Thongbai is disingenuously and stupidly claiming that press freedom is second to none in Abhisit Vejjajiva’s Thailand. In fact, he goes even further, shouting: “Freedom of the broadcast media in Thailand these days is vast and almost limitless.” Sounding downright pleased about the coup, he claims that the 2006 coup did not impact media freedom “in any significant way.”

The best way for an index to be constructed “should be based on an evaluation of the extent to which a country’s laws limit press freedom.” He seems to not give a hoot about the implementation of the laws or the enactment and implementation of laws that directly oppose any laws that are supposed to support media freedom. Thaksin’s regime, which was criticized extensively by Thongbai, would have looked good by Thongbai’s mindless calculations.

We will not sit idly by and watch as our hard-fought freedoms are taken away. We will mount a resistance without prompting from any international organisation.

We cannot think of a dumber commentary on media freedom for several years. When he says: “No form of witchhunt or suppression of the media will be tolerated in Thailand,” you see what he has become. “Dumb” is too polite, for what Thongbai is doing is throwing aside decades of good work in order to be a propagandist for a regime that has done more to restrict the media than any government for years.

There is no freedom

30 10 2010

The Red Power magazine has not appeared for two months, and The Nation reports on the reasons for this.

Red Power’s editor is activist Somyos Prueksakasemsuk explains that he has had to have the latest issue of 30,000 copies printed in Cambodia after “12 Thai printing houses turned him down … due to fear of government harassment…”. He adds that “no distributors would carry his publication because they’re ‘afraid’, adding that authorities checked the last distributor’s two years’ worth of tax records.”

Recall that both Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya have claimed that the there is media freedom in the country and that the opposition is able to be active in the media. Kasit even proclaimed that Thailand is open and freedom of the press “is second to none in the world!”

Somyos states: “There is no freedom. There is no space for us to express ourselves even though we chose to fight peacefully…”.

At present, the magazine is stuck in Cambodia as officials won’t let the shipment enter the country.

Streckfuss on his new book and lese majeste

3 10 2010

Pravit Rojanaphruk has an interview with Khon Kaen-based scholar David Streckfuss, about his Truth on Trial in Thailand: Defamation, treason, and lese-majeste, just out from Routledge. PPT won’t go through his comments in detail, but we wait with interest to see if the book is going to appear on library shelves or will be circulated as PDFs. Can the royalist government and its supporters allow it?

On Thailand and the monarchy being “unique”: “If the Thai monarchy is so loved, why does it require one of the most draconian lese majeste laws of recent world history?” And this: “To believe something is unique tends towards a sense of exceptionalism, which easily leads towards becoming blinded to universal and historical trends elsewhere.”

Why has the mainstream media come to maintain self-censorship on anything deemed even mildly critical about the monarchy? Streckfuss answers: “One cause certainly is the increased penalty for lese majeste…. Most importantly perhaps is that since the early 1960s, much of the movement toward democracy was reversed and there was a re-sacralization of the institution. This shift made it increasingly difficult to address a whole series of political, social, economic, and cultural issues, depriving Thailand of much of the artistic and intellectual dynamism it might otherwise have had. The chilling effect of this law on the media is undeniable. But the mainstream media seems to have also failed in fulfilling its historical task of fighting for greater freedom of expression.”

Is the monarchy unstable?: “If it takes the lese majeste law to suppress criticism, expression of opinions, and public scrutiny—the hallmarks of any minimally functioning democracy—then the system is already precariously unstable.”

On the increased use of repressive lese majeste laws: “Unfortunately, it appears that in all of this political turmoil, lese majeste has become the preferred charge against political opponents, especially against the red shirts or those perceived to be red-shirt sympathizers…. Over a five year period—from 2005 to 2009—there were 430 cases accepted the Court of First Instance in Thailand, which handed down 231 decisions. Another 39 were received by the Appeals Court, and 9 by the Supreme Court. The number of lese majeste cases has skyrocketed under the present administration, to historically unprecedented and incomparable numbers—164 cases went to trial in the Court of First Instance in 2009. Such a vigorous use of a law for non-violent word crimes and against freedom of expression makes hollow Thailand’s claim to being democratic.”

On lese majeste and “Thainess”: “One regrettable aspect of this process is that Thainess became paramount, largely at the expense of everything else. So when the concept of Thainess begins to crack and fall apart piece by piece—as it seems to be doing now—it is understandably frightening because there is little else out there to unite people in Thailand.”

Further updated: Abhisit, al Qaeda and his US statements

25 09 2010

AFP reports on Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva’s talk at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York. The report seems to indicate that the premier has lost none of his capacity for spin and continues to believe that foreign observers of Thailand are basically dullards and will believe him because he speaks English so very well as a pukka English lad.

As has been his monologue for some time, Abhisit claimed “that early elections could take place early in 2011 if the opposition Red Shirts prove they can remain peaceful.” If he was truthful, he’d add that this measure of “peaceful” is impossible to meet when it is the security forces that kill and injure in large numbers. Yes, there have been claimed instances of red shirt violence and by some who have an alleged link to red shirts. But, as far as PPT can tell, there has been no proven instance of red shirt violence that comes anywhere close to the state’s own grisly record.

Further, a truthful Abhisit might have added that an election that the parties of the establishment look likely to lose is unlikely to be countenanced. The Democrat Party and its puppet masters will simply not allow an election that they may lose, or if they miscalculate, as they did in 2007, they will simply find ways to chuck out the result, as they have done several times. Even another coup could not be ruled out.

At least the prime minister added: “We believe that six more months of continued stability… should be able to set the scene for a possible early election next year…”. That’s as close to truthful as he gets. March would be the earliest announcement of an election. Under the military’s 2007 Constitution, he has to have completed an election date by December 2011.

He adds: “If they would prove that they are interested in democratic movement, peaceful assembly and rejection of any illegal activity — and of course violent activity — then I think we should be on course to achieve a solution.”And, as has been his penchant for the whole period of his military and palace arranged premiership, he says: “I don’t believe in elections where there can be intimidation, threats or use of force…”.

That position has been repeatedly invoked when Abhisit knows that his party is so hated in some parts of the country that it could never  campaign without facing considerable opposition. Again, though, it is the government that maintains the emergency decree and which maintains a virtual monopoly on violent political action. At the same time, it is the government that engages in undemocratic attacks on personal liberties, engages in massive censorship and keeps an unknown number of political prisoners locked up.

Abhsit also makes the classic authoritarian leader’s claim: that “ordinary people are not affected” by the continuing emergency rule. This is not only an authoritarian justification of undemocratic and repressive politics, but his most blatant lie in this speech. As PPT has pointed out before (and here), Abhisit now has a long record of bald-faced lies, most notably when overseas.

And to make his shabby performance a touch absurd, Abhisit compares restrictions on his red shirt opponents (and others – see here) to the “war on terror.” He claims he is not “damaging media freedoms” because his regime only restricts media that “incite violence.” That’s another Abhisit lie, with any number of non-violent websites blocked, including PPT. His justification enters the absurd when he claims: “I’m not sure whether you’d allow any special station for Al-Qaeda here,” smugly believing he has penetrated the American mind by comparing red shirts to terrorists (the Abhisit regime’s political position). The comparison only makes sense in the minds of the yellow-shirted brigade in the Democrat Party.

Update 1: Abhisit has been getting a polite press while facing small demonstrations outside the venues where he is speaking. Some of the reports, with links provided by a loyal reader:

Forbes: The premier plays up the “good news, ” which is economic growth. But then Thailand is in the major world growth area. PPT suggests that the surprise is that the red shirt demonstrations didn’t have much economic impact. The bad economic news is that the Democrat Party and its backers seem determined to maintain the low-wage regime. We suspect that such an economic regime dovetails with the elite’s continued political control.

Press TV: a summary of the early elections nonsense presented above and also here.

Xinhua says the premier “would explain Thailand’s economic and political situation to world leaders during the 65th United Nations General Assembly in New York.” Why not? He’s tried to explain it in Thailand and seems to get no particularly positive response. Sounding like a throwback to the 1960s, he claims: “I believe there are many investors in the US planning to invest or expand their businesses here…”. It is mentioned that security is a worry back home, with more bombs in Bangkok and more talk there of increased security. Maybe they can do the same at military arsenals.

PPT enjoyed he Washington Post story that has Abhisit sounding positively schizophrenic as he called on Burma’s military junta to allow for a “more inclusive” political system, including “the participation of jailed opposition leader Aung Sang Suu Kyi, after … elections are held in November…”. He then whinged about the Human Rights Watch statement on his government’s own failures. He said he was “slightly disappointed” that the HRW statement “did not recognize what he described as continued dangers to the government.” PPT hadn’t ever thought that HRW was in the business of protecting a particular government….

Abhisit showed remarkable and shocking indifference to human rights in stating: “I wish they would recognize that in implementing this law we are simply trying to make sure there is stability and no violence…”. Doesn’t Abhisit understand that he stands on the same ground as military rulers and authoritarian leaders of the past? Probably not….

Sounding like he does on Thai elections, Abhisit believes that elections in Burma won’t change things much. But he then adds: “I think it should be seen as a first step.” But not for Thailand…. He also talks of reconciliation in Burma. Perhaps his recording is stuck.

Update 2: There are a series of 8 YouTube videos on Abhisit’s first New York speech (in Thai) on 22 September . Begin here.

Regression in the media

29 08 2010

The Nation has an interesting report citing Roby Alampay, outgoing executive director of the Southeast Asean Press Alliance (SEAPA). His basic point is that media freedom has “palpably deteriorated” over the past six years; that is, a period coinciding with the last years of the Thaksin Shinawatra government, the rise of royalist opposition to Thaksin resulting in the 2006 coup and the period of royalist-military dominance since then. He says that much of the decline has been recent, “especially for broadcast media such as community radio stations and Web boards…”.

Alampay observed that it has been the “Internet over the past six years [that] has played a crucial role in allowing people to debate and air their views…”. Alampay also notes that censorship of this media, “state monitoring and the threat of prosecution over content in their e-mails or social networking sites” is highly “personal.”

It is also asserted that: “Print media fortunately remain very vibrant and free…”. That is true in Thaksin period, when the media was virtually united in its opposition to his government and said whatever it wanted – including being prepared to circulate patently false stories. Of course no print media – except for the now banned red shirt newspapers and magazines – ever developed the fortitude required to take on the monarchy and lese majeste laws. However, PPT rejects this account for the period since the coup. The mainstream press, until just this past 6-9 months when some notable exception (e.g. Matichon) emerged, has been almost as resolute in supporting the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime as it was in opposing Thaksin. Self-censorship was the rule, most especially related to red shirt demands and protests.

His positive view of the public TPBS television station also seems a little optimistic. When PPT has viewed it of late it seems to be having difficulty establishing any kind of independence.

Alampay warned of the “growing legal constraints that curb freedom of press and expression.” Here the reference is to lese majeste, computer crimes and similar legislation that is a dead weight on the media. He said, the current “Computer Crime Act was ‘dangerous’ because the authorities were exploiting its harsh penalties and weaknesses. Then there’s the spate of arrests under the lese majeste law.”

On Abhisit he said: “You have a prime minister who benefited from political and military upheavals, and he says all the right things about press freedom, but in the background, there’s a lot of trouble…”. He added that when “Abhisit first came to power, he told society ‘not to worry about the law’, but Alampay said things have turned out to be ‘quite disappointing and unfortunately got worse’ under the current administration.” There is no doubt that Alampay is correct on this.

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