TV as shackled as in Thaksin days
Contrary to popular belief, television news coverage is no freer now under the junta-selected government than during the Thaksin Shinawatra administration, said Suwanna Uyanan, vice president of the Thai Broadcasting Journalists Association (TBJA) yesterday, three weeks after the military ousted Thaksin in a coup.
"In the past we used to employ self-censorship. Now we can't even try to investigate the junta and its government like we used to under an elected administration. We've been cordoned off by the military," said Suwanna, adding that soldiers are still occupying Channel 11 where she works.
"We feel suffocated. We don't understand why the military still have to camp out at the office. We don't know who to ask and everyone automatically accepts it that the military has become part of our lives."
Suwanna was speaking at an "illegal" symposium organised by the Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR) yesterday, where the group called for the abolition of martial law, which bans political gatherings and restricts the media.
"The people's media has been shut down for the moment," said Ubonrat Siriyuwasak, chairperson of the CPMR. "They must return basic rights as soon as possible."
Ubonrat said the curbing of the media and self-censorship is spreading from television to the print media, adding there is no reason not to lift martial law unless the new regime considers the people its enemy.
"The heart of democracy is rights and liberty," said Ubonrat.
The CPMR members stood for 90 minutes at Democracy Monument yesterday to mourn the "death" of the so-called People's Constitution of 1997, which was adopted exactly nine years ago yesterday. They held a candle-lit vigil and laid wreaths mourning the loss of the charter.
The group also issued a statement calling on the new regime to reassert freedom of expression under the 1997 Constitution's articles 39, 40 and 41.
CPMR secretary-general Supinya Klangnarong urged the print media to allow space for diverse opinions on the coup and the new regime to be printed - and called on the government to stop cracking down on pro-Thaksin community radio stations.
Sombat Boon-ngam-anong, webmaster of www.19sep.org - shut down after last month's coup - criticised the attitude of the coup leaders and the new administration as paternalistic.
"People are made to stay still and we are told that things will be fine. It reminds me of some hooligan telling a young girl to stay put and things will be fine, before molesting her," said Sombat, adding that many anti-coup opinions are being suppressed.
"Dictators fear the people's thinking. Otherwise, why would they try to control the media? We must spread the virus that is critical of the coup," said Sombat, whose office was visited by two military officers after the website was shut down.