Junta hard at work

14 06 2019

Still working to get a government together, the junta remains very active. There’s no such thing as a caretaker government when the “new” government to be is also the junta’s.

The Dictator yesterday “exercised the all-powerful Section 44 to bring more than 20,000 illegal hotels and accommodation services nationwide under better state control and boost safety for guests.” That order is said to be “aimed at making accommodation services which have violated laws related to land use, city planning, building control and hotel businesses legal.” At about the same time, a military task force, led by the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) Region 4, and supported by police, “raided a cluster of 23 luxury hilltop villas on Koh Samui found to be illegally operating as a high-end hotel.”

Here’s the rub of dictatorship: The Dictator wields dictatorial powers and the military is running raids for which they are unaccountable. That the two acts contract each other is neither here nor there because Gen Prayuth Chan-och can do whatever he wants and it’s “legal.” We can’t help wondering what he will do after he’s got a government in place. We guess he’ll resort to threats and violence.

On the high-end resort, could we guess that this is a kind of mafia action. After all, the place has been high-profile and operating for eight years. Something’s happened to suggest that the usual pay-offs may be being re-routed.

Meanwhile, the same military boss has used Article 44 to “suspend the process of selecting new members of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC)…”.

The order comes as the “three mobile operators — Advanced Info Service, True Move H Universal Communication and Total Access Communication — are due to submit proposals to buy 700MHz spectrum licences, meant for the 5G network, on June 19.”

We are only guessing, but assume that deals have been done, kickbacks arranged, and so there is a need to maintain the existing “partnerships.”





Voice keeps its voice

27 02 2019

Prachatai reports that the Administrative Court has ruled that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission was wrong to suspend Voice TV.

It decided that “the moderators of Wake Up News and Tonight Thailand did not cause confusion and division in the general public, even though they offer analysis and criticism against the government agencies and public figures.”

The court found that the NBTC “did not show evidence of damages done by Voice TV.” The court also found that the NBTC attempted to use “reasons” for the ban that were not conveyed to Voice TV and ruled this invalid.

This is something of a breakthrough as, under the military junta, the NBTC has acted as a puppet agency, doing the junta’s bidding and censoring at will. The Administrative Court has now ruled that the NBTC must have evidence for making its political decisions.





Voice TV back

16 02 2019

In an unexpected decision, Prachatai reports that “the Administrative Court ruled to delay the NBTC’s [National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission] suspension order. Voice TV can continue broadcasting during election campaigns until the trial is concluded.”

It made the interim decision based on a Voice TV injunction filed “on the ground that NBTC’s suspension order is unreasonable and unlawful, and that there will be negative repercussions if the Court does not grant them injunction, both for the public and for Voice TV itself.”

The Administrative Court appears to find the “NBTC suspension order is most likely unlawful…”.

That’s good news for media freedom, even if the case is not finished.





Updated: Doubling down on Thaksin II

13 02 2019

Gen Prayudh Chan-ocha reckons his “roles as prime minister and the [Palang Pracharath] PPRP’s prime ministerial candidate are two different things…”. The trouble is he is unable to distinguish between the two and neither can anyone else.

A good example is his continuing use of the media, The Dictator has “insisted he won’t end his role as the host of Sat Phra Racha Su Kan Phatthana Yang Yangyuen, which means “The King’s Philosophy for Sustainable Development”, a television programme that is aired every Friday night.”

Most observers would consider this a clear use of media for promoting the General-Candidate-Dictator. The double standards are obvious to all.

The double standards are further exemplified by his administration’s suspension “of digital TV broadcaster Voice TV for 15 days for allegedly airing provocative content.” Of course, Voice TV is identified by the junta as pro-Thaksin.

The Nation reports that this ban by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission was ordered by NBTC commissioner Lt-General Perapong Manakit who declined “to specify details of the ‘provocative’ content…”. The content “was aired on the Tonight Thailand programme on December 16, as well as on Wakeup News on January 21, 28, 29 and on February 4.” It was mildly critical of the junta.

Criticizing the junta is not allowed, even in an election campaign where the junta has its own party and Gen Prayuth is its candidate for PM.

Prachatai notes that Sirote Klampaiboon, a political analyst for Voice TV, observed:

The closer to the election date, the freer the press should be. But today Voice TV may be suspended for 15 days. The screen will be black, meaning that when you turn on a TV, all of our programs will not be there. I don’t know if there are people in power ordering the involved organization to suspend us, but this is the disgusting use of state power to coerce the people. It is especially so when you want to resume your government, send ministers to set up parties to support their own partisans, and when the PM candidate of Phalang Pracharat has made phone calls to force every TV channel to broadcast one-sided of yours for 5 years.

The Bangkok Post reports that “Voice TV executive Mekin Petplai said the station would petition the Administrative Court, seeking compensation for damages which would total more than 100 million baht.”

The Nation notes that Voice TV “the NBTC over its decision to twice temporarily close down the TV station – in 2014 and in 2017 – and to suspend many of its programmes on 17 other occasions.”

Prachatai reproduces Makin’s press release.

With all the attention to the princess thing, it seems that the junta and its puppets are going for broke in making it less likely that pro-Thaksin parties will do well at the polls.

Update: The Bangkok Post reports that the “Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and the Online News Providers Association said Wednesday the NBTC must exercise its power wisely so as not to impede on freedom of the media.” They called on the NBTC “to review its order suspending Voice TV’s broadcasts for 15 days.”

Sadly, as has often been the case, these associations crawled before power, complaining that “controversial programmes should be dealt with case-by-case…” and “called on the media to act cautiously in reporting political news to ward off criticism they are acting in favour of any particular political parties. Additionally, they need to avoid any reporting or rhetoric that could spur divisions…”.

For years, these associations have unable to demand media freedom without spineless caveats.





Calling out the NBTC

12 05 2018

It has taken a long time but two journalists’ associations have finally called out the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.

The Thai Journalists Association and Thai Broadcasting Journalists’ Association have opposed the NBTC’s decision to shut down Peace TV for one month.So far so good, but then it all unravels for the associations and their apparent support of media freedom.

Of course, this isn’t the first time the station, associated with the official red shirts, has been closed by the junta’s NBTC, and the associations have been very reluctant to speak out.

This time, the NBTC revoked Peace TV’s license for “content of some programmes on air between March 26 and April 9 deemed inciting conflicts by the telecom regulator.” In making the decision, the junta’s lapdog regulator mentioned its boss’s Orders.

Nothing new in any of that as far as we can tell.

But finally recognizing the obvious, the two press associations “said the reference to the junta’s two orders to take action against Peace TV had jeopardised the NBTC’s credibility and showed that it had allowed outside influence to compromise its independence.”

“Jeopardized”? Really? The NBTC’s credibility was shot, trampled on and buried years ago.

The associations “also said the temporary closure was in violation of press freedom protected under the constitution.”

Well, yes, but it is the junta’s constitution and the junta can do anything it wants.

Then the associations supported violations of press freedom by suggesting that “[i]nstead of closing the station, the NBTC should selectively ban the programmes in question…”.

It seems the associations favor selective media freedom.





Lese majeste catch-ups

18 02 2018

Natthika Worathaiwit was one of The Facebook 8 who were arrested by the military dictatorship because of a satirical Facebook community page that poked fun at The Dictator. They were charged with sedition and computer crimes on 28 April 2016. Tow of them, Harit Mahaton and Natthika were charged with lese majeste.

Initially all were refused bail. When six of the eight were bailed, a military court refused bail for Natthika and Harit. The two firmly maintained their innocence. After more than two months in prison, on 8 July 2016, the two were released on bail. A month later, a military prosecutor indicted the two anti-junta critics on lese majeste and computer crimes.

Little more was heard about the case until in January 2018 Natthika revealed that she had decided to flee Thailand to seek asylum in the U.S. She remains critical of the military dictatorship. Prachatai has an interview with her in the U.S.

Prachatai also reports on a case with a curious twist. Back in March 2016, it was reported that that nine persons are to be charged with lese majeste over the Tob Jote/ตอบโจทย์ television show in 2013. ThaiPBS aired the program on the monarchy and lese majeste law on 11-14 March and 18 March 2013. The series featured historian Somsak Jeamteerasakul who later went into exile, conservative royalist Sulak Sivaraksa, the execrable Surakiart Sathirathai and retired ultra-monarchist Police General Vasit Dejkunjorn. The show hosted by Pinyo Trisuriyathamma. All are mentioned in the new set of charges, with four others.

Later, in July 2014, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) imposed a 50,000 baht fine on ThaiPBS for broadcasting political discussions about the monarchy. The NBTC declared that the broadcasts violated “Article 37 of the NBTC Act. The Commission accused the station of publishing content that instigated conflict, damaged peace and order, or damaged the good morality of the people.”

Royalists and the junta could not abide by notions that Thais could have a reasonable discussion of the monarchy or be allowed to think for themselves about the monarchy.

On 15 February 2018, the Administrative Court invalidated the fine. In doing so, it ruled that the NBTC showed bias (which is standard operating procedure for this bunch of junta minions). That bias got a name:  Lt Gen Peerapong Manakit, one of the NBTC members. According to the report, the “court ruled that bias on the part of … [Peerapong] who proposed the punishment, led to an unfair trial. The court ordered the Commission to refund the fine to Thai PBS…. However, the verdict does not rule whether the show’s content was legal or not.”

It is an interesting ruling. If Peerapong’s name rings a bell, it could be because he is another of those military hogs who can’t keep out of the trough, as reported in The Nation:

… there was a public outcry after an Office of the Auditor-General investigation revealed Peerapong Manakit had topped the list of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission members who had made the most overseas “study” trips last year…. He spent about one-third of his time (129 days) on 20 overseas trips at a cost of Bt12.03 million…. Peerapong has reportedly appointed his wife Janya Sawangjit as his adviser, effective October 1. Her salary is Bt120,000 a month…. It is not clear if NBTC commissioners can take their advisers on overseas trips.

Of course, nothing happened about this nepotism and he remains a commissioner, with a bunch of other military and royal-connected men.





Trusted forms of repression

7 02 2018

It was only a day or so ago that various junta allies reckoned that the activism that has bubbled up over the Deputy Dictator’s luxury watches and the “delays” to the “election” timetable would fade away.

It hasn’t and the junta is trying to erase activism. It is engaging in its trusted forms of repression: even deeper censorship of media and websites it finds critical and arresting and charging people.

Voice TV has again been taken off the air. This is the fourth time the channel has been suspended by the junta’s minions. This time, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission cited a program in October 2017 as the reason for the 15-day ban. Any excuse will do.

In Phayao, police arrested 14 activists of the People Go Network and involved in the “We Walk” anti-government campaign. As has been the case in previous movements that have displaced military regimes, several of those arrested were farmers and students. The junta fears such alliances.

The farmers’ group reportedly told police they joined the march because they had been oppressed by local, powerful landlords who charged them with trespassing on private property, despite their claims that the land actually belongs to them.

All denied the charges against them.

In Bangkok, the Democracy Restoration Group called off a news conference “following a police warning not to hold the event or risk violating a junta ban on public gatherings.” The activists “had planned to hold a news conference at the Maneeya Center in Bangkok – home to the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) – to call on the junta to keep its promise of an election this year…”. It seems that the FCCT was targeted by the police.

Also in Bangkok, police have charged all of the “39 demonstrators who protested on a skywalk near Pathumwan intersection on Jan 27 against a recently announced delay to the upcoming general election.” The charge is “illegal assembly.” The demonstrators also belong to the Democracy Restoration Group.

The junta thugs are seeking to silence dissent with constant harassment and a flurry of law cases that get very expensive when bail and fines are considered. Junta thugs also bring constant pressure on the families of activists.