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Soldiers' protest against media a threat to freedom

Dozens of soldiers gather in front of the ASTV Manager headquarters yesterday morning calling for the newspaper to apologise to Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha for its strong criticism. It was a second day in a row that soldiers protested against the newspap

Dozens of soldiers gather in front of the ASTV Manager headquarters yesterday morning calling for the newspaper to apologise to Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha for its strong criticism. It was a second day in a row that soldiers protested against the newspap

The show of strength by some 50 disgruntled Army officers on Friday and again yesterday in front of the yellow-shirt mouthpiece ASTV Manager Daily newspaper, after its condemned Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha as "lousy" over his handling of the Preah Vihear Temple dispute, is another low for freedom of expression in Thailand.

General Prayuth himself initially gave the blessing by saying his men were not defending him but the position of Army chief. He later told his men to restrain themselves.

It is undemocratic for soldiers to be gathering in uniform to pressure anyone, particularly the media, in order to prevent criticism of their boss. For the Army chief to give his blessing means he doesn't know that the military in a democratic country must submit itself to media scrutiny and criticism.

Back in the 1950s and 1960s, Thai generals were pretty much untouchable. Things have changed over the decades. The move could be construed as an attempt to again make the position of Army chief beyond 'reproof'.

The Army has its spokesperson. If it is unhappy about a certain media portrayal of its chief, it can resort to defending the Army chief and countering the media through a press conference. In a way, the lack of discipline and awareness about the appropriate role and behaviour of Army officers is not new as some officers still believe the Army has a duty to stage a military coup to "save" the country from corrupt politicians and defend the monarchy.

On the other hand, some red shirts who claim to be fighting for democracy have expressed satisfaction and a sense of "sweet revenge" on social media sites that now ASTV, the media they regard as being full of lies and deception, was on the receiving end of the military's attention.

But what about freedom of expression?

Press freedom and freedom of expression is not something to be applied selectively to those on your side only. If the red shirts take satisfaction from such a military threat against ASTV, they not only fail to defend press freedom, but are unknowingly assisting the revival and strengthening of military power over politics and society. Not that the Army today has no extra-legal clout. As it is, the Army owns two out of six free television stations and 60 per cent of the radio airwaves.

Regardless of whether you agree with ASTV or not, whether you think it's a propaganda tool or not, society cannot defend freedom of the press as well as freedom of expression if its citizens do not defend the right of those with whom they disagree or oppose.

Principles cannot be applied selectively - otherwise they cannot be regarded as principles.

The soldiers' threat to ASTV is another symptom of Army indiscipline. The red shirts' failure to speak out and defend the rights of ASTV is also a proof of how the basic principle of press freedom and freedom of expression cannot be expected to be defended, whatever the political affiliation.




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