Authorities restrict media amid bilateral tension

New York, July 18, 2002—The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) condemns recent moves by both Burmese and Thai authorities to crack down on the media in response to heightened tensions between the two countries. A series of official orders in both nations has restricted journalists’ ability to report on important cross-border developments.

Already tense relations between the two countries worsened in May when Burma’s military junta, the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) blamed Thailand for aiding ethnic Shan rebels who had attacked a Burmese military base that month.

Then, on June 28, Thai foreign minister Surakiat Sathirathai announced that the government had banned Burmese journalists Ma Tin Win, a columnist for the official daily New Light of Myanmar, and Maung Maung, an editor at the paper, from entering the country. The Thai government deemed a series of articles Ma Tin Win had written about the history of Thailand’s monarchy to be “insulting,” according to Thai news reports.

On July 12, the SPDC announced that it had banned 13 Thai journalists and a historian from the country. Labor Minister Tin Win said that the journalists had been banned for writing anti-junta articles and “belittling” government policies, according to the Bangkok Post.

The Burmese junta has maintained a blacklist of Thai and other foreign journalists for years and tightly restricts the foreign media’s access to the country.

According to the Bangkok-based Thai Journalists Association (TJA), the blacklist includes: Kavi Chongkittavorn, Thepchai Yong, and Suparak Kanchanakhundee of the daily The Nation; Suvit Suvitsawad of the daily Siam Rath; Wassana Nanuam of the daily Bangkok Post; Trirat Sunthornprapat of The Daily News; Sorakon Ayulyanonda and Yeow Thala Lom of Mathichon Daily; Lom Pianthit of the daily Thai Rath; Maha Sethi of Khao Sod; journalists Sai Phubua, Mon Krithula, and Anchalee Pairirak, whose affiliations are unknown; and Dr. Charnvit Kasetsiri, a Thai historian.

While original reports said that 15 journalists had been blacklisted, one name was listed twice by the SPDC, a TJA representative told CPJ.

Journalists banned from border areas

Meanwhile, on July 15, Thailand’s National Security Council chief, Kachadpai Buruspatana, announced that foreign journalists and international nongovernmental organizations are banned from areas near refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border. While Kachadpai said the restrictions are due to security concerns, he also stated that “foreign journalists will be banned from visiting camps or controlled areas as they are likely to report only on negative aspects of official work or on inaccurate or unconfirmed reports,” according to Agence France-Presse.

Kachadpai did not clarify how the ban is being enforced, and Thai journalists are still permitted to report from the areas.

More than 100,000 refugees from Burma live in Thai camps scattered along the border. Because the Burmese junta closely restricts local and foreign media coverage in that country, newly arrived refugees often serve as a crucial source of information about conditions inside Burma.

“The Thai government seems to be taking a page from the Burmese generals’ playbook,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “Preparing blacklists of journalists and imposing access restrictions on the media are actions typically associated with military regimes, not vibrant democracies like Thailand.”