Updated: NYT on Chiranuch’s case

2 11 2010

The New York Times has a story on Chiranuch Premchaiporn‘s situation, with the attention-grabbing headline “Fighting for Press Freedom in Thailand.” Most of the details will already be known to regular PPT readers. However, a couple of issues can be reiterated.

First, Chiranuch states that when she was arrested: “I began to feel victimized, and I hate that…. When you are arrested it shows that you have a lack of power. I felt I was too weak for them, and I was an easy target. I don’t like to be an easy target.” In fact, the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime selects “easy targets,” but also appears to be selective about making these arrests and charges have broad political impact. That is why they are victimizing Chiranuch and Prachatai.

Second, the NYT makes an important point for the broader international media when it states: “Ms. Chiranuch’s case has become a rallying cry for opponents of Mr. Abhisit’s campaign of censorship and has drawn criticism from human rights and free speech advocacy groups abroad.” It is important to emphasize that it is Abhisit who is responsible for the “campaign of censorship” and the broader based repression of his political opposition. He may be a pawn being moved by higher up players, but he is personally invested, personally angry at his opponents and personally responsible for the actions of his government and its security forces. The international media needs to specifically condemn Abhisit’s authoritarianism.

Third, Ubonrat Siriyuwasak, a media scholar recently retired from Chulalongkorn University is cited. She says:  “At first glance it looks to a lot of people as if there is still freedom of the press…. But if we take a closer look, we have to conclude that this is a serious situation because opposition opinion has been in a sense wiped out or must go underground.” That point should be emphasized. This regime has, as the NYT points out, dragged Thailand back to a dark ages of censorship and repression.

Finally, Chiranuch says: “Even if I quit [at Prachatai], the threat would not stop. The process continues.” That process is the censorship and repression that the current regime maintains and deepens by the day. The brave few who openly and trenchantly oppose it deserve international support while Abhisit and his government deserve condemnation.

Update: Bangkok Pundit has an excellent commentary on this story.

The media is not free

18 09 2010

Following the reported investigation of Fah Diew Kan and the earlier official prevention of printing for Somyos Prueksakasemsuk‘s Red Power magazine, seasoned media academic Ubonrat Siriyuwasak, chairwoman of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR), has been reported as damning the lack of media freedom under the Abhisit Vejjajiva regime.

While calling for “respect for freedom of expression,” Ubonrat recognized that different groups in Thai society “don’t enjoy equal levels of freedom…”, this report includes this observation: “Yesterday … an independent bookshop owner in Bangkok told The Nation an officer in uniform stood and stared at the Fah Diew Kan magazine for more than ten minutes without uttering a single word.” The owner of the shop said: “I feel a bit threatened. Another bookshop has already removed the magazine from its shelves.”

Ubonrat warns: “When the right to oppose is taken away, it will affect citizens’ rights in general. Freedom cannot be divided, because just like clouds [in the sky] it belongs to us all.”

Supinya Klangnarong, a former CPMR coordinator, warned that the regime’s crackdown on opposition media would make society “more regressive”.

Of course, media is just one avenue of the continuing repression that is the hallmark of the current Abhisit regime.

On the media’s role

29 05 2009

The events associated with the Songkhran Uprising in April appear to have placed the mainstream media under considerable and deserved scrutiny. Some of the political and mental gymnastics this provokes is displayed in two stories in The Nation. The two stories are:

In The Nation (29 May 2009: “Media’s duty is to stir debate: seminar”), a longer version of what actually appeared in the published version of The Nation, Thai Journalist’s Association (TJA) president Prasong Lertratanawisute opined that the Thai media was “not inclined to accept criticism and there was a need to promote more media monitoring.” While we are not sure what kind of monitoring Prasong wants, we are sure that the military and the government are monitoring.

Prasong then admits that some of the criticism of the local media has been justified and he points to “double-standard treatment of political groups, one-sided reports, or a tendency to omit reporting lese majeste cases”.

No prizes for guessing which bits were left out of the print version, but Prasong then talks more about “lese majeste-related news,” and says, “The media dare not report it because they have been taught [not to]. It’s a deep-rooted culture.”

Prasong then urged the government to do something about the government’s and especially the military’s control of the media, mentioning the army’s 200 radio frequencies. Perhaps being even-handed, he also mentioned the explosion of community radios and said that the mainstream media “don’t know how to handle the issue…”.

Chulalongkorn University’s Pirongrong Ramasoota seemed to explain part of the latter’s confusion, observing that the “conventional media had proven themselves too ‘urban-centric and middle-class- centric’ at the cost of neglecting news about rural and poor people. The rural poor are aware of this, she said, and have started to look for alternative media.”

In the second piece in The Nation (29 May 2009: “The media under scrutiny; journalists have their say”), the TJA’s secretary-general, Pradit Ruangdit, seems to provide a different perspective.

Pradit (of the Bangkok Post) is asked: “What are your views on the role of media in Thailand’s current political crisis?” and he responds that he “satisified,” even with the government-owned NBT, in providing balance by giving space to all partisan positions. PPT isn’t convinced that Pradit is watching and reading the same media we are.

Pradit adds that his main concern “that the mainstream media must not be a tool of propaganda and distort information…”. Maybe he should ask his president to explain to him the military’s position in the media.

When asked if the mainstream media was balanced during the political crisis, Pradit again claims that “we try to be fair with every partisan view by allocating equal space for every opinion.” He is then asked: “What do you think about the call for the media to ‘filter’ information that ‘hurts’ society [the Abhisit government’s position]?” and he responds: “I agree. News that instigates hatred is news that distorts the facts.”

That a senior office holder in the TJA is advocating censorship should be worrying to all working journalists and to media consumers.

On red shirt accusations that the mainstream media of being unfair to them, Pradit complains: “They have the right to voice their dissatisfaction, but there are reasons for the reports. Most of the information they voice is rumour and the word of propaganda, and, surely, we cannot publish this. If we present misinformation, we will lose our credibility…”. As Chulalongkorn University’s Pirongrong pointed out, for some, this credibility is already lost.

In summarizing this report, we have left out the comments by Chulalongkorn University mass media lecturer Ubonrat Siriyuwasak. Her response show how conservative Pradit is in his approach to media freedom and PPT urges our readers to look at the interview.

The TJA does seem to have gotten itself into a conservative position on issues of censorship and media freedom. That’s lamentable.

More on internet censorship

28 05 2009

The Bangkok Post (28 May 2009: “Self censorship plagues net”) has a follow-up on the Thai Netizen Network report of a couple of days ago. Unaccountably, in the web-based version, it appears under the headline “Web Crime.”

The 2007 Computer Crimes Act has created immense fear, resulting in self-censorship by webmasters wishing to avoid harsh penalties. This is particularly an issue for internet-based public forums. In addition, internet service providers impose their own censorship based on the same pressure from the authorities.

Academic Ubonrat Siriyuwasak is reported as claiming that the “government is closely watching websites which serve as forums on social and political issues after they became popular channels. Some had become so powerful they could direct public opinion or cause changes in society…”.

Sarinee Achawanantakul of Thai Netizen Network is reported as claiming that the government’s methods are ineffective.

Fear of severe penalties for breaching security regulations have led to many internet-based public forums adopting a policy of self-censorship, a seminar was told yesterday.

The 2007 Computer Crimes ActFear of severe penalties for breaching security regulations have led to many internet-based public forums adopting a policy of self-censorship, a seminar was told yesterday.

The 2007 Computer Crimes Act

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