Category: Press Releases, Asia & Pacific, Asia, Thailand
By: Alison Graham, IPI

IPI condemns censorship amid Thai military coup

Urges leaders to allow media to cover events independently


People hold signs while kneeling during a protest against military rule at Victory Monument in central Bangkok May 24, 2014. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

By: Alison Graham, IPI

VIENNA, May 23, 2014 - All independent television and radio broadcasts in Thailand, including transmissions from foreign stations such as the BBC, Fox and CNN, have been suspended since Thursday’s military coup, replaced by a military-run TV and radio broadcast that has been playing throughout the country.

Print media, Internet and news apps are still running and available, but social media websites are reported to be monitored by a special force in the Thai military looking for anti-coup sentiments and other national security threats. The military also stated that they would shut down at their discretion media outlets believed to be posing threats and that these outlets could “face legal action,” according to Opens external link in new windowan article published today by the Bangkok Post.  

The Sydney Morning Herald also Opens external link in new windowreported that an order was given to journalists and media houses prohibiting interviews with previous government officials and anyone else that does not hold an official position.

The International Press Institute (IPI) today condemned the censorship imposed on the media in the strongest possible terms. IPI Press Freedom Manager Barbara Trionfi urged the military leaders to allow media outlets, including broadcast media that have the largest audience in Thailand, to cover events independently in order to ensure that people in Thailand are thoroughly informed about developments in their country.

“Independent media appear to be coup leader General Prayuth’s primary target and the justifications offered by the generals for blocking independent coverage are unacceptable,” Trionfi said. “People’s ability to freely express and exchange ideas and opinions is the foundation of any working democratic system and the suppression of such rights inevitably leads to greater tensions and possibly an increase in violence. It is in times of crisis that access to independent news coverage becomes most valuable.”

As the Southeast Asia Press Alliance pointed out in a Opens external link in new windowMay 21 statement titled “Why is Martial Law imposed mainly on the media?”:  “five out of Opens external link in new window12 Martial Law orders from the [Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC)] directly impact media freedom and freedom of expression.”

On the day of the military coup, the Bangkok Post published a Opens external link in new windowstory citing four different Thai media organizations – the Thai Journalists Association, the National Press Council of Thailand, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, and the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand - urging the army to revise sanctions on media coverage under martial law that has been enforced since Tuesday. The groups reportedly called on the military to respect press freedom, and urged media sources to take responsibility for their coverage and remain neutral sources of information for the Thai people.

General Prayuth announced the military coup was announced early Thursday morning. He explained that the coup was intended to curb disagreement and return Thailand to normal functions after dueling groups, one supporting the government and the other an opposition group, could not reach a compromise on a new government for Thailand. In addition to restrictions on media coverage, the military has also enacted a nationwide curfew, banned political gatherings of five or more people and closed down schools until Sunday.  

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry released a Opens external link in new windowstatement on Thursday denouncing the coup and saying there was “no justification” for it or the restrictions on press freedom.

“I am also concerned that media outlets have been shut down,“ Kerry said. “I urge the restoration of civilian government immediately, a return to democracy, and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, such as press freedoms.”