Following the anti-government protests, the Thai government has begun to crack down on the opposition media. Sinfah Tunsarawuth asks if the heavy-handed tactics will incite further chaos.
Radio and television stations in Thailand have been warned by authorities against airing anti-government criticism that could cause civil unrest. Satit Wonghnongtaey, who is in charge of government’s media policy, told reporters that the government needed to shut down these media, suggesting they had been used to incite unrest in the country.
Among the targets were D station, a satellite television channel run by supporters of former prime minister, Thaksin Shinawatra, who form an anti-government bloc known as the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship (DAAD). Earlier this month, police blocked the broadcasts of the station and later raided the head offices in Bangkok.
The government has alleged that the DAAD had used the satellite D station as its key tool in mobilising people across the country to raise their voices against the Abhisit government, and in calling provincial people to join the rally in Bangkok.
National media has reported that the authorities have raided and seized transmitters of at least three community radio stations in the north and another in the northeast — the two regions of the country where the DAAD’s support is strongest. Authorities have also warned other similar radio stations not to air anti-government criticism. Critics say more crackdown on these radio stations could be expected.
Opposition websites have also become a target. Thai Netizen Network (TNN), an Internet freedom campaign group, said in a statement on Tuesday that the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology has blocked 66 ‘political websites that aired views different from those in power’ since 18 April.
Applying a specific provision under the Public Administration in Emergency Situation Decree of 2005, Abhisit declared that the emergency situation in Bangkok was ’serious’. This provision allows the authorities to arrest and detain any person suspected of inciting the unrest without charge for a maximum 30 days. The provision also means the authorities can search any building or office, and seize any equipment suspected of being used for such incitement — a measure they are thoroughly embracing.
Thai television, the main source of news for people across the country, is all too easily controlled by the government, with all of the main stations either owned or operated by the state. Controlling news media, particularly the television, has always been a key strategy of those in power in time of political turmoil. However, such a policy could also lead to greater opposition to the rulers.
Pravit in Prachatai:
The unprecedented crackdown on the DTV station, community radios both in Bangkok and the North and Northeast, as well as on the Internet, over the past week or so will only do more damage to the development of Thai democracy in the long run.
No censored society can be democratic. What is needed instead is patience and tolerance in allowing the red shirts or yellow shirts to exercise their civil right to freedom of expression and learn to determine by themselves what is true, false, fact, fiction, propaganda or mere persuasion.
If society takes the road of censorship, who then will decide what is fit to be published or aired on TV or radio? How can impartiality be guaranteed if there's some sort of supreme political censorship organ? And what side effect and repercussions will it have? This heavy-censorship road, followed extensively by countries like China and Singapore, must be avoided at all cost.
The side effect of shutting down the anti-government media is already being manifested in the fact that anti-government protesters can no longer verify rumours and hearsay independently from the state-controlled media or mass media sympathetic to the government.
And free speech advocate Kavi is nowhere to be found.
And here is hypocrite Suthichai Yoon on Jesse Jackson:
American peace activist Reverend Jessie Jackson told me in Bangkok yesterday that he had asked for a visa from the Irania embassy here to go to Tehran to seek the release of Roxama Saberi, the American-Iranian journalist who has just been sentenced to eight years in jail on charge of spying.
She is said to be going on a hunger strike beginning tomorrow.
Reverend Jackson said he was appealing to the Iranian government to show mercy to Roxana who has been reporting for American media. "I have known here since she was a journalism student," he said in an interview with me here in Bangkok.
US President Obama has said he believes Roxana is innocent and should be set free.
Instead of hobnobbing with Yoon and Abhisit, maybe Jesse should stay in Bangkok and advocate for freedom here for the millions who were disenfranchised, and for the Red media that was systematically dismantled under the current government.