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Junta says it has no problem with BBC's digital Thai-English news service

The junta says it has no problem with the new social media Thai-English news service by the British Broadcasting Corporation and even offered to help the agency to "better understand the situation in Thailand", a junta spokesman said.

"We don't have any problem, as long as they don't send any provocative information that is negative or impacts the stability of the country," junta spokesman Werachon Sukondhapatipak told Agence France-Presse.

The BBC has decided to launch its first ever pop-up news stream about Thailand, regional and international news in both Thai and English as of yesterday evening in order to overcome media censorship imposed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) since the coup.

The digital-only social media news stream will be on trial for three months, Liliane Landor, controller of language services for the BBC World Service in London, said in a press release issued yesterday.

The move, according to the statement, "follows the military coup in May after which international channels, including the BBC World News TV, were taken off air temporarily".

"We think the time is right to trial new Thai and English digital stream to bring trusted news and information to people inside Thailand. Thailand is one of the most digitally advanced societies in Southeast Asia and this means we can set up this operation quickly and cost-effectively," he said.

The BBC's Thai-language World Service was discontinued in 2006 after six decades.

The press release also indicated that the BBC had sought and received approval from British Foreign Secretary William Hague.

Hugo Swire, minister for Southeast Asia, told the BBC that the new service was an "excellent idea" that would "support the freedoms of expression and thought which are such critical parts of any successful democracy", and that "this initiative embodies what the BBC is all about".

The BBC pointed out that Thailand has 24 million Facebook users, over 13 million in Bangkok alone, with growth of 320 per cent in the last 12 months, and 96 million mobile phone subscribers for a population of 67 million.

Jonathan Head, the BBC's Southeast Asian correspondent, who is on leave in London, told The Nation that the BBC had little consultation with him over the launch although he did suggest the idea of having a social-media platform to provide news without censorship to Thais after the coup.

All staff are operating from London, although he has no idea who they are or how many people are involved. It's unclear if the news stream will only be available on Facebook or also on Twitter and other social media.

"I don't know who they have employed to write the Thai content," he said.

Last month, the junta set up five panels to monitor national and international news organisations as well as social media in its latest attempt to control the press.

The London-based The Telegraph newspaper reported that the offshore service will "provide an alternative source of information to the heavily censored media controlled by the military dictatorship".

The paper's headline was also provocatively written as "BBC takes on Thailand dictatorship with a 'pop-up' Thai service".


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