Thailand: Junta further undermines press freedom by closing radio stations

New York, September 22, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists denounces further restrictions on press freedom imposed by the leaders of Thailand’s military coup.
The junta issued broadcast media directives Thursday that resulted in the closure of more than 300 community radio stations in the north, the political stronghold of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The new military leaders have moved aggressively to censor opinion in favor of Thaksin, whom they toppled in a bloodless coup on September 19. They have dissolved Thailand’s 1997 constitution which guaranteed press freedom, and the new broadcast rules put the future of more than 2,000 community radios across the country in doubt, journalists said.

In another development, the junta-controlled Information and Communications Technology Ministry ordered the closure of the Web site, which had posted comments critical of the coup. The Ministry also warned the country’s webmasters that they would be held responsible for all postings on their sites and urged them to erase any references to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, local media reported.

“We call upon Thailand’s new military government to cease its harassment of broadcast and Internet media,” says CPJ executive director Joel Simon. “Restricting the media is clearly not consistent with the junta’s message that it plans to quickly re-instate democracy in Thailand.”

Earlier, the junta had ordered all radio stations to cancel phone-in news programs, and television stations to stop displaying telephone text messages from viewers. It also ordered Web-based chat rooms to screen and censor any comments viewed as provocative to the coup-makers. To date Thailand’s print media have been unaffected by the orders, but concerns are rising that editors have started to self-censor news critical of the junta.