Two days into the peaceful military takeover in Thailand, freedom of expression and the media is under threat as the interim Administrative Reform Council moves to isolate deposed caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and clamps down on expressions against the coup.
Foreign and local journalists still enjoy unrestricted movement, and the Internet seems to be left untouched by the military. However, local English broadsheet “The Nation” reports that the Council on 20 September empowered the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to censor reports that are deemed conflicting to its interests.
The same day, international satellite-transmitted news services CNN and BBC were censored when the news programme featured background information on Thaksin. The screen went black before resuming, presumably after the Thaksin feature was finished.
On 21 September, an interview with the Council on a local television channel was cut short when reporters asked about Thaksin.
“The Nation” reports that the Council has ordered broadcast executives not to air public opinion that would undermine its efforts to “reform” political governance in the country. The army owns the country’s airwaves and all broadcast networks are essentially government operations. Troops have been positioned outside all stations since the coup, ostensibly to “protect and provide security”.
Community radio stations in Chiang Mai that broadcast public opinion will be shut down, added “The Nation”. It quotes Major General Sup-aksorn Sangprakul, commander of the 22rd Sub-Regional Command, saying, “The right to operate community radio stations was recognised by article 40 of the Constitution, but the Constitution was revoked by the third announcement of the council.”
Wire service AFP says media heads have been ordered not to publish viewers’ text messages in a ticker at the bottom of the television screen, as had been featured in some local programmes.
The AFP report quotes an unnamed army official saying that in an afternoon meeting on 21 September, “the army chief General Sonthi Boonyaratglin…will ask all media to stop broadcasting text messages from viewers, and to stop running other expressions of public opinion.”
The Council has meanwhile banned political gatherings of five or more people, imposing a jail term of up to six months or a fine of up to 10,000 baht, or both. “The Nation” reports the arrest of democracy activists on 20 September who were demonstrating against the coup. Those arrested include former members of Parliament Chalard Vorachat and Thawee Kraikupt.