Media Situation Report 2015
Thai Journalists Association
2015 has been a year of ambiguous, uncomfortable and paranoid atmosphere for the media in Thailand , as the media reform process was worrisome amidst the government’s will to strictly control the media.
The work of the media in Thailand has been restricted by the announcement of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s chief, and other forms of pressure faced when the media are doing their work by examining the use of state’s power. At the same time, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha has on many occasions expressed his negative attitude towards the media through harsh words publicly. Meanwhile, the media reform process has still been in an ambiguous state that cannot give hope to the press and Thai society.
Some incidents that took place in 2015 and could affect the freedom of Thai press included:
The media’s working environment under the NCPO
Throughout the year 2015, the NCPO has exercised its power according to the NCPO’s announcements, especially Number 97 and Number 103, and Article 44 of the Interim Constitution by summoning editors and reporters, claiming the summons were just for understanding and cooperation. The examples of the summons included:
Summoning editors of eight newspapers on June 11Meeting with editors of 18 newspapers on August 25Summoning individual journalists including The Nation’s senior reporter Pravit Rojanaphruk, who was under the military’s detention from September 13-15, and Thairath Newspaper’s cartoonist Sakda Iaw Summoning prachatai.com’s reporter and editors to Army Signals Department and asking the TJA’s president and board members to observe the meeting
Such summonses reflected that the government has been closely monitoring the work and opinions of the media and the people. Sometimes it could not clearly give the reasons for the calls.
The conducts caused the ambiguous, uncomfortable and paranoid atmosphere for society.
National Broadcasting Commission (NBC)’s regulation of broadcast media
In 2015, the NBC has exercised its power according to the NCPO’s announcements in taking action against television stations including:
Fining T News for Bt50,000 on March 23, prohibiting it from airing programmes and ordering it to apologise to the third party within three days after it broadcast a programme on an alleged anti-monarchy plot, people behind it and relationship to some particular politicians. Issuing a warning letter to Peace TV for violating the previous agreement with the NCPOSuspending the licenses for TV24 and Peace TV for seven days from March 30Issuing a warning letter to NEWS 1 Channel’s news talk programmeIssuing a warning letter to Tonight Thailand programme on Voice TV on August 24Issuing a warning letter to Fah Wan Mai Channel on September 14Summoning representative of ThaiPBS Channel to verbally warn after airing an analysis of New Democracy Movement group’s activities on November 9
Role of the Prime Minister and NCPO’s chief against the media
General Prayut Chan-o-cha, as the premier and head of the NCPO, for over 10 times used harsh words criticising the work of the media. Many times during the media interviews he also expressed negative attitude towards the media.
“The media need to be reformed. Some newspapers are crazy, they criticised all governments.” (An interview after the government’s quarterly achievement presentation on December 25)
“Ill-minded photographer and editors selected bad pictures of the leaders for publication.” (An interview after a meeting with head of government agencies on January 29)
“Media organisations must self examine. Columnist should not just criticise. I will terminate the media who lack ethics.” (An interview before his departure to Brunei on March 25)
On many occasions, he accused the media in general as having ill intention of not being part to create reconciliation and national unity. His accusations were groundless as the media reflected the views of people from all groups in society so that the people can join hands in solving conflicts peacefully. Moreover, the media’s reporting has been according to their duty and not under any influence.
Concerning process of media reform
Media reform is one of the 11 areas of national reform according to Article 27 of the Interim Constitution B.E. 2557 (2014).
Media professional organisations have been calling for media reform with the principle of independence from state or capital influence, principle of self-regulation. In case the media violate the laws, such as libel, they should face the lawsuit according to the law without interference of any special law.
The National Reform Council (NRC)’s committee on the reform of the media and information technology did proposed a bill on the protection of the freedom, promotion of media ethics and standard to the Cabinet and proposed establishment of a national media organisation. However, the NRC’s term ended before the consideration of this bill. The bill, therefore, was dropped.
However, there remain the idea of using the laws to regulate the media and authorising police officers to control the media, just as in the now-revoked Press Act B.E. 2484 (1941). Some members of the committee on the National Reform Steering Assembly and its sub-committee on online, printed and broadcast media proposed the idea of putting the regulation of all the media under the Royal Thai Police. The idea can be seen a trace of authoritarian which is opposed to the basic rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press according to democratic principles.
In the meantime, the panel also proposed the NCPO chief exercise his power according to Article 44 of the Constitution in regulating the media. Moreover, it planned to invite some search engine and social media service providers to discuss collaboration in early 2016. The movement has been monitored by domestic and international societies as it could affect the people’s basic rights of privacy.
The media in 2015 did their jobs under the pressure of the government’s restrictions. They sometimes imposed self-censorship to avoid the consequences. Such situation is unhealthy to the media’s role in seeking and providing the truth for the clarity, transparency and national interest. Such situation is uncomfortable as the media cannot provide space for all groups in society to express their views, which could foster national reconciliation through dialogues and peaceful resolutions. The overall situation caused paranoid among the media. Year 2015, therefore, has been a year of ambiguous, uncomfortable and paranoid atmosphere for the media in Thailand.
Thai Journalists Association
December 30, 2015