The fear of prosecution and the junta's limitations on academics in giving out views to the media have resulted in some scholars imposing self-censorship.
Law lecturer Ekachai Chainuwati is a perfect example of what happened to academics’ freedom to publicly discuss politics after the coup.
The deputy dean of Law at Siam University was once much sought after by the media, both local and international, prior to the May 22 coup. He has been self-censoring by rarely giving interviews for two months now. He gave an interview only twice over the period.
The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) bans academics from giving out views to the media that it deems divisive or likely to stir unrest. Some academics and those interviewed by The Nation agreed that the negative repercussions would be on people’s right to know.
There’re three types of Thais who oppose the coup, said Ekachai. First are those who live abroad and freely criticise the NCPO. The second live in Thailand – like activists and journalists – who fully criticise the NCPO and have ended up being detained, with some being charged. The third group, where Ekachai belongs, opposes the coup but has chosen not to criticise the coup- makers publicly.
“I have three kids, the oldest is eight and the youngest just two,” said Ekachai, as the reason why he has chosen to belong to the third group. “If I were alone I would have gone the whole hog.”
Independent political scientist Sirote Klampaiboon, popular on television and some print media, has chosen to censor himself to a certain level by reducing his media exposure.
“I have to be careful also when giving interviews,” he said, adding that the negative impact of censorship is on society at large. “The mass media have turned into PR machines for the junta. There’s no differing opinion left and the public are now being led by one group of people,” Sirote said, adding it would make critical appraisal of the NCPO almost impossible. Sirote added that political division would continue to exist no matter whether the mainstream mass media and scholars censored themselves or not.
At Thammasat University, one noted law lecturer said on condition of anonymity that he would only stick to criticising the provisional constitution and make no comment about other issues, including that of self-censorship. Political scientist Trakoon Meechai of Chulalongkorn University criticises the ban, saying it is indiscriminate.
He said he continues to give out interviews however as he believes he takes no sides and what he says is factually correct.
“If you ask whether I am afraid or not, I am not, as long as what I say is correct. Trying to shut our mouths will cause problems,” he warned, adding that during dictator Field Marshal Sarit Thanarat’s time, censorship led to an explosion of anger – while now the NCPO has no means to shut all the noise on social media.
“Can you really control them?” Trakoon asked.
Ekachai too said it would be better if criticism were allowed. However, he consoled himself by saying: “Eventually no one can hold on to power forever.”