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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