Bangkok’s English-language daily The Nation, using reports from the Agence France Presse, is reporting that the military council running the country is supposedly ready to “retaliate” against foreign media whose reports on the recent coup could be deemed “insulting to the monarchy”. But the real context behind the statement attributed to a spokesman for the military council is still not clear. The Thai word used by deputy spokesman Major General Thaweep Netniyan had been translated by AFP to, “retaliate”. But the same word could also mean simply “to respond”. Some Thai journalists tell SEAPA that the Council’s statement was also taken by some to refer to a media campaign that the interim government is readying, rather than a political or military warning against foreign correspondents.
SEAPA is trying to verify the report.
Whatever the case, however, the confusion over what the Council is saying also underscores tension and uncertainty in the Thai media environment.
Foreign correspondents and Thai journalists have so far been free to report on the coup. Their movements have been unrestricted. Newspapers are operating at their usual schedules and levels of output. The larger backdrop, however, has seen all forms of electronic media put under a strict regime of control and censorship. Hundreds of radio stations have been shut down or suspended. All TV networks are subject to censorship. Webmasters have been warned to be accountable for any postings that get on their websites. And all broadcast networks have been told to desist from continuing popular interactive programs–such as call-in radio talk shows and SMS surveys over TV–thus depriving Thais of crucial forums to discuss the coup and its impact on democracy in the Kingdom.
In all this, the presence and security of the foreign press in Thailand has become all-important. Foreign media represent Thais’ access to diverse and independent news and information, especially now that all electronic media is under the military’s thumb, and there is a question about self-censorship among the local press.