Press Freedom Group Challenges Thai Visa Rules for Foreign Media

BenarNews Staff
160219-TH-journalist-620 A reporter takes a picture during a press conference in Thailand on Oct. 11, 2013. The Committee to Protect Journalists is raising concerns about the nation’s new guidelines on issuing visas for foreign journalists.

A press freedom watchdog’s warning that a new set of Thai visa restrictions for foreign media could make it harder for reporters to cover Thailand prompted the government to issue a swift clarification on Friday.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) earlier on Friday released a statement expressing concern that Thailand’s military-controlled government would have “new discretionary powers to deny visas to reporters whose work or behavior is deemed as ‘constituting any disruption to public order or to the security of the kingdom.’”

The CPJ was reacting to a new visa policy for members of the foreign press, which the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced a day earlier.

The committee said the new restriction was similar to the junta’s ban “against any news that could ‘undermine social stability’ or ‘sow political divisions’ imposed on Thai media.”

The CPJ also pointed out that those with category M (Media) visas must work full time for a registered news outlet or report specifically on Thailand was a change that could force long-time freelance photographers and reporters to leave the country.

Additionally, journalists must renew their M visas annually, and have face increased scrutiny of their applications since the Thai military seized power in a coup in May 2014, the CPJ said. The increased scrutiny includes mandatory interviews where reporters could be asked to state their personal opinions about the junta, monarchy and fellow foreign journalists.

Thailand’s response

According to the clarification statement issued by the government, as of January 2016 more than 500 foreign journalists applied for M visas with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ministry said that no more than 5 percent would be ruled ineligible to apply for the visas.

The government claimed that the new guidelines were developed to introduce a clear category for journalists eligible for media visas, in light of the changing nature and increase in online media.

“Journalists, correspondents and freelancers employed by a news agency registered with the competent agency of either Thai or foreign government will not be affected,” the statement said.

The new guidelines are not intended to “restrict, forbid or limit the work of foreign media, as well as foreigners who work in Thailand,” it added.

The government also claimed that journalists who were not eligible for M visas would be advised to apply for another appropriate category.

It gave the example of foreign photographers who would not qualify but who could be advised to apply for a non-immigrant B (business and work) visa. For freelance photographers who require a media card to work for a news agency, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs will receive the application and inform Thai agencies to issue a media card, the statement said.

The guidelines were based on research of visa requirements from other nations, discussions with foreign correspondents and a meeting with executive members of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand.

CPJ challenged the government’s statement that the guidelines were established in response to the changing nature of media.

“These restrictive new criteria clearly aim to hollow out the foreign media and silence critical foreign reporting on Thailand's rights-curbing military regime,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, in a news release.

“It’s a crude tactic that aims to instill fear and encourage self-censorship, and, if strictly implemented, could put Thailand in league with some of the region’s most closed, authoritarian societies.”


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