Updated: Red shirts, censorship and a predicted crackdown

9 04 2010

The Bangkok Post (9 April 2010) reports that Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, now with almost total control over the televised media, has defended the decision to shut down the red shirts’ People Channel, claiming it “aired disinformation so people would turn on the government. This endangered national security.” More specifically, Abhisit appears to be personally affronted because the red shirts played a tape on stage that Abhisit says “falsely claimed the government was using weapons to suppress protesters.” Propaganda and censorship chief Sathit Wongnongtoey “said the red shirts had provoked hatred of the government.” He claimed that the red shirts had “doctored video and audio material to discredit the government.”

Preventing oppositional voices is now defined as a means of defending national security.

Thailand’s Cable TV Association president Kasem Inkaew “warned that the closure of PTV would draw more UDD supporters to the red shirt rallies,” and said that members “had received many calls from subscribers who were angry after the rally broadcasts were suspended…”.

As usual, a couple of yellow-shirted academics have defended the government, with Thammasat University law lecturer Surachai Sirikrai saying the shutdown was warranted because People TV presented “one-sided information that threatened public peace.” That logic would mean shutting down all television stations in the country.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology is reported as “warning that all websites linked with the red shirt demonstrations and those encouraging people to join tomorrow’s mass rally will be blocked immediately. ICT permanent secretary Sue Lor-uthai yesterday said the warning came after the Centre for Public Administration in Emergency Situations authorised his ministry to tackle websites and Twitter users considered provocative and inciting disunity.  Mr Sue said the authority given to the ministry would help efforts to ban websites quickly rather than wait for a court order.  Mr Sue said almost 10,000 website links had been blocked since March when the red shirt demonstration began.  Bans on another 700 links were awaiting court approval, he said.”

At about the same time, acting government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn has claimed that the government is only using peaceful means.Ominously, however, he adds that the “government was using the approach employed during the bloody Songkran protests last year.” That response to the Songkhran Uprising was claimed by the government to have been “measured,” but resulted in dozens of injuries and at least 4 related deaths.

It now seems just a matter of time – at least for the government – before the crackdown begins.

The government claims to have the military brass on side for its proposed actions against the red shirt protesters, but this is not absolutely clear. Wassana Nanuam says that it may be deputy army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha who will have “to head the operation to disperse the red shirt demonstrators…” as his boss, General Anupong Paojinda is “reportedly uncomfortable with a plan to break up the protests.” There is speculation he may refuse to act and that the government may have to get General Prayuth to do the job.

Wassana reports that Abhisit and Deputy Prime Minister Suthep Thaugsuban “are reported to have locked horns with Gen Anupong on Tuesday over a plan to disperse the red shirts. The army chief was quoted as saying the security authorities had no authority to move in and break up the rally at Ratchaprasong intersection.”

General Prayuth is said to have “mobilised 50 companies of troops from the 2nd and 3rd Army Regions and from the Lop Buri-based Special Operations Command to help beef up security in Bangkok.” Anupong is not inactive however, and has “asked suppliers of tear gas and rubber bullets to speed up deliveries.” He has also  “given clear instructions to troops not to use firearms if they embark on an operation to disperse the demonstrators. Soldiers have been told to use only crowd control equipment – mainly water cannons, batons, shields, tear gas and rubber bullets.”

It is a situation balanced on a knife-edge.

Update: Worth reading the report at Inter Press Service for an assessment of the politics of this current censorship. Also worth reading is this TIME report on the military.

SEAPA condemns censorship in Thailand

9 04 2010

Originally published on the newly-re-sited Prachatai English site, PPT reproduces in full the latest statement of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance here. We do so not least in case Prachatai is either blocked again or hacked.


SEAPA troubled by Thailand’s clampdown on TV station, websites; free expression gravely threatened under state of emergency

9 April 2010
“The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) expresses concern over the declaration of a State of Emergency in Bangkok, particularly in how the broad powers granted the military under such a declaration could render the free press and freedom of expression vulnerable to political and security objectives.

Less than 24 hours since Prime Minister Abhisit Vejajiva ordered placing the Thai capital under a State of Emergency, the government has blocked one satellite channel sympathetic to protesters, and some political oriented websites now deemed a threat to national security. Among those blocked websites is Prachatai.com, which is in fact an independent online news website that is known to accommodate a diversity of information and commentary on various topics.

The Thai Journalists Association, a founding member of SEAPA, and the Thailand Cable TV Association have called the actions unconstitutional and in violation of Thais’ rights to press freedom and access to information.

While the State of Emergency Law grants government the power to censor, Article 45 of the 2007 Constitution states in part that “the closure of a newspaper or other mass media business in deprivation of the liberties guaranteed under this section shall not be made”.

SEAPA shares in the Thai media groups’ deep concern for the larger environment for free expression.

The actions taken against both a political station on the one hand, and an independent news operation on another, demonstrates the dangerous latitude the Thai government is allowing itself in determining what can be tolerated and what should be squelched on its claimed path to normalcy.

A free press must be allowed — through independence, diversity, or both — to provide platforms for open, fearless discussions, and even debate. The broad powers granted under a State of Emergency (including power to ban public gatherings of more than five people, censor and ban media from disseminating news deemed inimical to national security and order, and the detention of people without charge for up to 30 days) grant the government and military a blunt weapon that could harm the overall environment for free expression.

If it is left to government and the military to determine what is “good” and “bad” news, commentary, or information, a diversity of views and opinions will inevitably be compromised. As the TJA and TCTVA notes: “The government claimed the blockade of the transmission and blockade of access to the website were done to prevent distortion of information and prevent dissemination of false information to the public. But the government continued to use state-owned radio and TV station to present one-sided information. The government also allowed other radio stations and another satellite TV to present similar content of state media, which could lead to further rifts in the society.”

Indeed, there will be the risk of criminalizing legitimate opinion and debate, which in turn may only aggravate tensions and heighten perceptions of bias, and ironically lead to further disenchantment and division.

SEAPA urges the Thai authorities–and all clashing parties to the current crisis–to spare the media from the prospect of ending up as collateral damage in the unfolding story. Even as the TJA is correct in reminding that the crisis and the Thai people deserve the most responsible and ethical news and commentary that independent media can offer, all sides to the ongoing crisis have an interest in ensuring an environment where independent, diverse, and even opposing views are respected, tolerated, and protected.”

SEAPA is the only regional organization with the specific mandate of promoting and protecting press freedom in Southeast Asia. It is composed of the Jakarta-based Alliance of Independent Journalists (AJI) and the Institute for Studies on the Free Flow if Information (ISAI); the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism; the Bangkok-based Thai Journalists Association; and the network’s Kuala Lumpur-based associate member, the Centre for Independent Journalism.

Associations condemn censorship

8 04 2010

The Nation (8 April 2010) Thai Journalists Association and Thailand Cable TV Association reports on a joint statement by the Thai Journalists’ Association and the Thailand Cable TV Association to condemn the government’s blockade of the PTV’s satellite transmission and the closure of Prachatai. According to the report, the  “joint statement said the actions were unconstitutional and double standard law enforcement.” The joint statement says:

1. The transmission blockade of PTV Station and the blockade of access to the website violated Article 45 of the 2007 Constitution. The article states in part as “The closure of a newspaper or other mass media business in deprivation of the liberty under this section shall not be made”.

2. The government claimed the blockade of the transmission and blockade of access to the website were done to prevent distortion of information and prevent dissemination of false information to the public. But the government continued to use state-owned radio and TV station to present one-sided information. The government also allowed other radio stations and another satellite TV to present similar content of state media, which could lead to further rifts in the society. This could lead to criticism that the government was using double standard law enforcement.

3. The blockade of information like this definitely affected the people’s rights to free information. The people affected by the information blockade could come out to demonstrate in a bigger number and could cause the situation to be more complicated and lead to violence.

4. The professional media bodies would like to call on all types of media to carry out their duty to present comprehensive reports by presenting facts and taking the public rights to free information into account. The media should also exercise extreme caution that their reports could lead to violence.

Finally, we hereby affirm that our stand is made in line with the principles of the professional media bodies, which give priority to the public interest with no intention to allow any side to use this statement to create legitmacy for its own.

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