Political Interference on Thai Press
Freedom of press does not have the exact definition. It can be differently interpreted according to the meaning of press and political status. In this case, the press refers to “all the media and agencies that print, broadcast, or gather and transmit news, including newspapers, newsmagazines, radio and television news bureaus, and wire services”(Press, 2009). It means that these media companies have the right to publish and broadcast the information without any interference. In Thailand, the censorship has been described as the protection of national security and monarchy (Bangkok Pundit, 2006). Since Thai Rak Thai, when Thaksin Shinawatra was the prime minister of Thailand, the freedom of the press has been limited. The government violated the press freedom by using state power controlling television-radio stations and internet. Later, after the coup in 2006, the press freedom has been worsened. The press and media were monitored and censored by the government. Every television station was seized (Ubonrat, 2007). Moreover, individuals' expression against the military's coup was also illegal. The lese majeste law is another thing that is often used in attacking the press and politicians. From the global view, Thai press freedom has sharply declined since 2001. According to Freedom House, Thailand was ranked at the 29th place in 2000, and fallen to 127th in 2007. Moreover, it was listed as one of the top ten worse media for the first time (The Nation, 2007).
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As many foreign media are interested in the being of Thai press, the government should open the media and acknowledge global press more about their movement, because, the information about censorship is still unclear. The exact number of the blocked websites is a secret. It is claimed that the blocked data are inaccurate and inappropriate. It could influence people and would lead the country into riots. Still, there is no guarantee that the government's actions toward the press will help maintain the country in peace. Does it benefit Thai society? Is it the right thing? No, it seems not. The government should not interfere the press freedom as it creates one-sided reports, violates human-rights, and against democracy.
The first reason is one-sided reports. As people are treated differently, one-sided reports can be seen as an inequality. The government who was elected uses their power to control the media and ban the information that criticized them. The press was pressured to behave as the government's approval. When political conflict happens and people are separated in two groups which are Red shirts or Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship(DAAD) and Yellow Shirts or People's Alliance for Democracy(PAD), the opinions and expressions toward politics increased, more harassment occured in attempt to defeat each other. At this time, during the Abhisit's government, all the television and radio stations are under the control of the government (FACT, 2009). The government chooses to censor the information that affects their stability, and present the information from the groups that support their party, mostly in the chaos time. For evidences, Abhisit scanned pro-Thaksin media in late April in 2009. The radio stations which support Thaksin in Chaing Mai, Udon Thani, Lampang, Patum Thani, and Bangkok were raided. The transmission equipment were ripped, and the station managers were arrested (SEAPA, 2009). The day after the coup, 300 pro radio station in North Thailand were closed down (FACT, 2009). The Ministry of Information and Communication Technology were ordered to restrain, destroy, and block the information through the communication network after the coup(Bangkok Pundit,2006). CNN and BBC were blocked when they reported about Thaksin. Moreover, the D station television(DTV) which organized by the supporters of Thaksin Shinawatra, the former prime minister, was blocked by the police during the chaos of the protest, and the head office was sooner raided (FACT, 2009). When the DTV was suddenly blocked, Thais were only receiving the information from the public media— under the government control. For the Yellow shirts(PAD), they also had their channel “ASTV”, which was an anti-Thaksin media. Both the PAD and DAAD consume the data from different sources which, obviously, have the opposite objective.
As there are different sources, the fact has become only a doubt. Each of the sides wants to support themselves. Hence, the truth has been adapted for their benefits. The facts are distorted. Based on the same event, there can be varies of the reports, also varies of the details. For example, when there was the ASEAN conference in Pattaya, the Red shirts went to protest and shut down the meeting, the riots between the Red shirts and the Blue shirts happened. The “Blue shirts” is another group with the quote of “Protecting the Institution”. It is believed that the military was behind this group, but the government denied. It was left doubtful that the blue protesters were armed with the clubs, iron rods, and sticks (Sky News, 2009). After the riots, the public media claimed that two people died, but the D station television said that there were actually six. The other bodies were hauled away by the military (PPT, 2009). Moreover, it was said that the Blue shirts was the first one who started violence by throwing bomb into the opposite group. The report states that the Red shirts carry out violence by using bomb, when they were actually throwing back the Blue's bomb. On the other hand, the major media reported that the Red started the violence without any questions (PTT, 2009). However, there are still no fully investigations about this issue. In addition, there was also a vague interview between a reporter and Kittisak Prokati, a Thamasart professor of law faculty, about the military coup d`etat. Kittistak said that the military officers were asking him about the coup. They wanted to know how to do the coup. The reporter asked if he agreed with the military coup or not. The professor said that there would be no academic support for that, it is illegal. He advised that the military should do things constitutionally. On the other hand, the report came out that Kittasak was discussing with the military about the coup, implied in a way of planning. He said the news was twisted. With all the buzzes in Thai media, it is hard to believe for both sides (Mathichon, 2005).
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The second reason is it violates human-rights. Since the coup in 2006, internet censorship has increased more than 500% (FACT, 2007). The sites that critic the coup are blocked. People are not able to critic the government and the monarchy through the internet, and any other media. Their words cannot be published, and if anyone violated they will be charged; for example, Giles Ji Ungpakorn who wrote a book called “A coup for Rich” which criticizing military's action was charged respect to the lese majeste law (SEAPA, 2009). It is strictly stated that they cannot critic the monarchy. Lese majeste law is the law that most of the people were charged when they commented on politics with reference to the monarchy. People were not allowed to express their opinions about the coup through SMS and MMS on television for 12 days during the coup time (Bangkok Pundit, 2006). Moreover, radio communities were asked to avoid the phone calls that attempt to express their opinion on politics. If the radio programs have the telephone interview on politics, the questions that will be asked needed to be sent to the “Council for Democratic Reform under Constitutional Monarchy” or CDRM beforehand. CDRM is a group of military who organized the coup in 2006. As mentioned, when DTV, CNN, BBC, and other media were blocked during the coup time, people were not able to know what was actually going on at that time. These actions violated human-rights as people have the right to show their opinion, receive information through any media.
Lastly, the third reason is it is against democracy. Thailand is a democratic country, so the governance should be in democratic way. Equality is the most important thing for democracy. Everybody should be treated the equally. Right of free expression including giving and receiving data is the base of democracy (HRM, 2007). If people are not able to discuss their thoughts freely, how could they be part of the democratic society. Democratic society is a society that all adults can easily access to participate in decision-making of any organization that the actions or decisions would affect them (Democracy Watch, 2004). From the mentioned evidences, instead of providing the convenience in accessing all sides of the information, the government's efforts make it worse. Before the general election in 2006, 17,793 sites were blocked (Global Voices, 2008). With one-sided news, people are not enlightened enough to make the right decisions. The discussions about the politic on the internet are banned until the current events are left unspoken. Over 1500 books are ordered not to be published. The publishers feel insecure to publish the books about modern politics. Moreover, the bookstores are not willing to store this type of books (Prachatai, 2007). This is like framing people thoughts under the screened media. These actions keep people off knowledge and affect the country in the long run.
During the cloud of confusion, people are struggling to find the truth. On first the oppositional view, Satit Wonghnongtaey, who is responsible to the government's media policy, states that they need to shut down the anti-government media because it might influence people to incite the turmoil. The government claimed that the DTV is a tool in mobilization to encourage people to be against Abhisit government, and draw people in rural area to join the rally (FACT,2009). Everything has its reasons, the military did not order Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) to block and shut down websites for nothing. It is because the sites have inaccurate information that would harm the government efforts of reformation (HRM, 2007). They are doing this for the secure of nation. On the other hand, according to Adams, an Asian director at Human Right Watch, the government and military are obviously worried that Thaksin may return power, so they are seriously controlling media and doing censorship. Giving people one-sided news is like controlling people's thoughts. It is more like blocking people from the out-side world. Blocking inappropriate media which invades human-rights such as pornography is a good thing, but blocking political information and people expression is not a good thing. If sharing thoughts harms the reformation, then why reforming. People need to know both sides to weight if the reformation worth or not. Maintaining the peace this way is not the right thing. Censoring only makes people feel more confuse, doubtful, and think that the government wants to hide something. Instead of believing the government and keeping in peace, it will increase the number of people against the government. On the other hand, if the government opens the media, provides the information on both sides, explains themselves clearly and shows the transparency. It would help keeping the country in peace more than what they are doing.
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Another oppositional view for the second reason, according to Mr. Kraisorn, the permanent secretary of MICT, is that the actions were made in order to prevent the massage which could create the divisiveness among Thai people. For the freedom of expression, the MICT said that they did not stop individuals' website but asked for co-operation in word usage—avoid the massage which might create divisiveness and avoid the reference of the monarchy. Looking closely to human-rights, government's act violated both Universal declaration of human-rights and Thai constitutional declaration of the rights and liberties of Thai people. The U.N. human-rights, article 19, states that everybody has the right to freedom of expression. They can express their opinions and receive any information through any media (U.N., n.d). Sector 41 of Thai constitution declaration in article 3 said that both official and private workers undertaking the press and broadcasting business should enjoy their liberties in expressing news and their opinions under the restrictions of the constitution, without any interference from courts agency, courts enterprise, the owner of such businesses, including the government…etc.(Press Reference, n.d.). These two declarations explicitly mean that citizens have the right to discuss about anything involving political issues. They have the right to receive the information from wherever they want. The government should not stop them. The U.N. human rights were declared to be used among the member countries. Meanwhile, Thailand is one of them, so they should take it more seriously. Moreover, the Thai constitution itself declared the rules to protect people rights on media. Hence, the government should not ignore these statements.
On the last oppositional side, the government said that they are developing new democratic society. This new democratic society based on people's needs. It aimed on reconciliations, which refers to both political colors and Southern conflicts. Abhisit also pointed out that the new democracy need to comes with good governance (The Government, 2009). To argue, the good governance for the democracy are obviously not the governance that has double standards. How could treating people unequally help creating a good new democracy? It is not the right start for the democracy. The way that they govern shows less possibility of reconciliation. They need to be more transparent about the censorship, open the access for more information. The free expression and the freedom of media hold an important role of democracy. They are the keys of an election. If the information are reported correctly and thoroughly, people will make their decisions correctly. The representatives that are chosen will be the ones who are truly elected, and trusted. With this, people will really become parts of the democratic society. More people will use their rights to vote as they feel that this is the real election without the interferences. Moreover, when the books about the coup and the other events which contain the facts are allowed to be used in academic, it will upgrade the education quality, at least, more knowledge available. When the education improved, civilian will be more civilized, accordingly. Students will learn from the mistakes and develop their thoughts to improve the country in the future.
Concerning to Thai current event, chaos after chaos, the protests have become the cycle which shows no sign of the end. Thailand already faced the dim hope of the new democracy. All it could be seen is the government are trying to cover things up, blinding people. Nothing have improved much after the coup, the claims from the government seem to be only excuses. The quality of lives are worsened, don't people have even the right to speak, or, at least, to know? Their words are beautiful, but not for the real practice. From whichever views, the acts of government have absolutely violated human-rights. Are these actions supposed to be made in a democratic county? Democratic citizens deserve better than this. Interfering press freedom does not make anything better, but raised more issues.
In conclusion, the government should give people more freedom. One-sided reports raised people suspicions. Instead of making a peaceful society, it will incite more opinions against government. People need to be able to know everything that they have the right to. The government actions violated both journalists and citizens' rights, all of them have the right to express their opinions, and receive the information through any media. The journalists themselves have the right to publish and broadcast without the interference of government. Moreover, controlling freedom of expression is against democracy. The media conditions right now do not provide the equality which is the base of democracy. When Thailand is a democratic country, the attempt of interferences is not the right thing.
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