Thailand’s military junta censors CNN Thaksin interview

New York, January 16, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the Thai government’s efforts to block broadcast news coverage of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, including the censoring this week of a CNN interview with the ousted leader.

Officials with the military-appointed interim government instructed local cable provider UBC to block the interview, which first aired on Monday, according to news reports. The CNN interview was replaced on Monday with a rerun of a sports program. Replays of the interview scheduled for today were replaced with still images of Hollywood movie stars.

The ruling Council for National Security (CNS) last week summoned senior Thai broadcast representatives and urged them not to air comments by Thaksin, his lawyer, or his former political party members. Since taking power in a September 19 coup, Thailand’s military junta has moved aggressively to block favorable opinions of the ousted premier on broadcast media, from which around 80 percent of citizens receive news.

“We call upon Thailand’s military government to immediately stop censoring the news,” says Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “The government has promised to quickly restore democracy. Ending censorship would be a meaningful first step in that direction.”

In the CNN interview, Thaksin strongly denied that he was behind the mysterious New Year’s Eve bombings that killed three and injured more than 40 in Bangkok. The government has in public statements vaguely accused Thaksin’s Thai Rak Thai party of masterminding the bombings. The former premier also claimed that he had no intention of re-entering politics and stated his hope to return to Thailand from exile, according to news reports.

During the September 19 military coup, the junta blocked news coverage of the events and replaced local programming with images of the monarchy. The military later moved to dissolve the 1997 constitution, which broadly protected media freedoms and guarded against state censorship, and replaced it with a series of military decrees, including military order No. 10, which vaguely calls for media “cooperation” in reporting political affairs “constructively.”

On October 5, CPJ sent a letter to Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont urging his government to quickly and unconditionally restore provisions guaranteeing press freedom included in the 1997 constitution. In September, the junta closed more than 300 community radio stations across the country’s northern and northeastern regions, where pro-Thaksin sentiment still runs strong. It has also moved to block at least one politically oriented Web site, 19sep, which had posted commentary critical of the coup.

Local and foreign print media, which widely reported details of the CNN interview, have so far been immune from overt government censorship. The Wall Street Journal Asia, which published an interview with Thaksin on the same day as the CNN piece, was distributed throughout Thailand without any government interference.