Freest press in Southeast Asia?

October 23, 2007

rsf.jpegRSF’s 2007 press freedom index (rankings for Southeast Asia):

Cambodia tops the list (ranked 85 in the world), followed by Timor-Leste (94), Indonesia (100), Malaysia (124), Philippines (128), Thailand (135), Singapore (141), Laos (161), Vietnam (162), Burma (164). Find out why.

Brunei is not ranked due to lack of data.


Down the slippery slope of Internet censorship in Thailand…and what maketh a telecoms minister

June 12, 2007

The Thai interim government has gained some notoriety for its assault on the Internet, particularly after it blocked for refusing to take down a video clip that allegedly insulted the monarchy. Local English daily Bangkok Post finds out what it actually takes to monitor the Internet and how that slippery slope of censorship is manoeuvred.

‘Licenced’ by the Criminal Code and Council for Democratic Reform’s announcement no. 5, a team of six Telecoms staff must be prepared to stay back or return to work at night when tipped of websites that may contain material that is pornographic, lese majeste, or damaging to national security. They also receive orders from a national security unit that monitors web content. Currently, their eyes are trained on around 10 websites, including the sometimes-blocked “Hi-Thaksin” website.

Well, to block or not? As expected, this is a subjective and difficult decision in reality. Many a night is spent debating whether a website should be censored, even with the help of the deciding factor: the element of incitement to gather and demonstrate. Failing a consensus, the team would refer to a ministerial committee supervising Internet filtering. Once the decision is made, they will ask either the Internet service provider (ISP) or webmasters they are in contract with to do the actual blocking or shuttering.

Meanwhile, the International Herald Tribune finds a telecoms staff who does not use e-mail and says Internet is not really his thing – Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudom himself. The eccentric man of many interests (that do not include communications technology) may have blocked, but readily admits he is “sick of people trying to get me to close down websites”. More about him here.

Thai government bows to media pressure to drop draft bill

May 16, 2007

The junta-appointed cabinet in Thailand has dropped its own draft publishing bill following pressure from the media fraternity, reports Bangkok Post today. Instead, the government will consider the version drafted by members of the media sitting in the National Legislative Assembly, which repeals the draconian 1941 Printing Act. See also the Nation Multimedia Group’s group editor Tepchai Yong’s comment.

Thai media want old law gone

May 15, 2007

One of the cited justifications for the 19 September 2006 coup d’etat in Thailand was for the return of true democracy following years of backslide under deposed premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

“So,” writes Thepchai Yong, group editor of The Nation Multimedia Group, “as we are working on political reforms in conjunction with the drafting of a new constitution, abrogating the 1941 Printing Act should be at the top of the agenda.”

The antiquated law gives the police licence to curb the media, so much so that these police staff are actually termed “press officers”. They may censor and halt publication and revoke licences of newspapers over content that are deemed to “disturb peace and good morals”.

The government should pay heed to the urging of the Thai Journalists Association and other media groups for the antiquated law to be replaced with a media-friendly bill drafted by members of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), argues Yong. Find out more here.

Bad press for media freedom in Thailand

May 5, 2007

May 3 is an occasion for media all over the world to take stock of how they have fared over the year in being able to do their job unfettered. Kavi Chongkittavorn, assitant group editor of Nation Multimedia Group and SEAPA chair, comments on Thailand’s fallen ranking according to two international media rights group, noting that for all the junta’s good intentions since toppling former premier Thaksin Shinawatra in September 2006, the results have yet to speak for themselves.

“Thai officials have yet to learn how to respond to negative news, or website postings, without tarnishing the country’s generally good record for press freedom. The blocking of CNN, the BBC, YouTube and other websites, even briefly, has backfired and done terrible damage to the country’s international standing,” he writes. Read Kavi’s full comment here.

Is it time to rein in the lese majeste law in Thailand?

April 12, 2007

David Streckfuss, a scholar who has studied the sensitive issue of lese majeste in Thailand, dares to ask this in the Bangkok Post. Streckfuss argues that the law is easily – and has been repeatedly – abused. He points out that for a law that is meant to protect the monarchy, its application has hardly done that – quite the reverse, in fact – and cites what the wise King Bhumibho Adulyadej himself has said on the matter. More here.

Thailand’s Internet law “overbroad”, says ARTICLE 19

April 9, 2007

ARTICLE 19, an international NGO working to protect and promote free expression, has analysed Thailand’s draft of the Computer-Related Offences Commission Act and found it detrimental, especially in the following aspects:

  • It establishes unduly broad prohibitions on accessing information over computer systems.
  • The penalties, which extend to capital punishment, are far too heavy for the offences.
  • Unduly broad limits on the sale of computer software are established, along with liability for anyone who sells the software, regardless of any complicity in a crime.
  • Liability is extended to service providers, regardless of whether or not the material in question has been identified as illegal by a court.
  • A crime of defamation for altering pictures of third parties is established.
  • Broad enforcement powers are given to ‘competent officials’ to enforce these rules, largely without any judicial scrutiny. Read the rest of this entry »