Marking World Press Freedom Day, two Thai media associations called on Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-o-cha to revoke measures that prevent reporting on current affairs freely.
At the Government House, representatives from Thai Journalists Association and Thai Broadcast Journalists Association along with other reporters briefly met with Prayuth to hand him a statement and petition. They also gave him a T-shirt inscribed with media freedom message.
The statement requested that orders issued by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) be revoked and that the government-sponsored National Reform Council support efforts for reporters to cross check among themselves. It also urged the media to report objectively and without bias, while maintaining respect for human rights.
“I will take a look at this issue. If these ones are revoked, I can replace with others,” he said. “I wish you all happiness and be successful for the nation.”
According to iLaw, a Thai human rights advocate group, from May 2014 when Prayuth took power until the end of March 2016, at least 62 civilians have been charged under lese majeste, defamation of the royal family, and at least 39 were charged with sedition.
In the last month, at least 10 people have been arrested for allegedly posting disturbing messages on social media as tensions rise over an upcoming constitutional referendum. On April 27, Election Commissioner Somchai Srisuthiyakorn said his office filed a complaint against a group for using Facebook to criticize the referendum, citing a new law that prohibits people from campaigning during the run-up to the Aug. 7 vote.
Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, an editor of the Voice of Taksin magazine, has served five years of his 10-year jail term for committing lese majeste.
“The freedom of media situation has been flagging as reflected by the report from the Reporters Without Borders. Thailand’s media freedom ranking dipped from 130 in 2014 to 134 in 2015,” the associations’ statement said.
“How free is Thailand’s media now?”
Meanwhile, representatives from media outlets such as The Bangkok Post, Prachatai and The Voice TV gathered at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand to discuss government treatment since the 2014 coup. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance was present as well.
Nopporn Wong-Anan, deputy editor of The Bangkok Post said Thailand has not been ruled by an elected government, so the situation is not normal.
However, he said the government has not applied any pressure on The Bangkok Post, except for telephone calls asking for an opportunity to tell the side of their story.
“Are we given pressure by the government very rarely,” he told more than 100 at the event.
“So far we didn’t receive interference but they called to report the stories of their side,” he said.
“If you (the government) want a reform of the nation, please be open to discussion,” he added.
Chiranuch Premchaiporn, the director of an on-line news outlet Prachatai who in 2015 was sentenced to a suspended eight-month jail term, said otherwise.
“One of our editors is still in jail for five years for sensitive contents (against the monarchy),” she said in reference to Somyot Prueksakasemsuk, who was convicted of lese majeste on Jan. 23, 2013.
She said the government monitored print, radio, TV and on-line.
“They have a list of forbidden guests to programs,” she cited her colleagues’ accounts as saying.
“They used the penalty as laws state to the media and netizens as well,” she added.
Anthee Dejthevaporn, field reporter for Voice TV, delivered a blunt account of the country’s polarization amid the political rifts. He said the military has summoned his coworkers 10 times for inquiry into sensitive content.
Kulachada Chaipipat, a campaign manager for Southeast Asia Press Alliance described press freedom as deteriorating.
“In comparison to other Southeast Asian countries, Thailand is facing deteriorated situation followed by Malaysia,” she said.