February 14, 2008
His Excellency Samak Sundaravej
Office of the Prime Minister
Royal Government of Thailand
Via facsimile: 011-662-629-8213
Dear Prime Minister Samak:
The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomes the installation of your popularly elected government, marking a welcome return to democracy after a period of military rule that often worked at odds with Thailand’s proud tradition of press freedom.
As your government assumes the reins of power, we urgently call upon you to uphold the various press freedom guarantees enshrined in the 2007 Constitution and consider the repeal of any remaining restrictions on the media enacted by the previous military government.
As an independent, nongovernmental organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, we strongly urge you to return Thailand to the path of press freedom and allow all journalists to do their jobs free of intimidation, harassment, and censorship.
In meetings last week with several Thai editors, reporters, and media advocates, CPJ found that there are widespread concerns that your government plans to follow in the footsteps of your military predecessors by interfering with the work of the media.
We were alarmed to learn that earlier this month your office announced plans to establish a task force charged with monitoring the “news balance” of the broadcast media. CPJ is concerned that the task force’s creation could presage a return to the previous government’s order to broadcasters to report only positively about its administration and threats to censor any news reports it deemed critical or seen as a threat to national unity or security.
Similarly, we were troubled to learn about Prime Minister Office Minister Jakrapob Penkair’s widely reported public comments concerning his intention to review the operations of the newly established Thai Public Broadcasting Service. Minister Jakrapob’s comments run counter to the news station’s mandate to operate free from government interference or influence over editorial decision-making.
CPJ notes with regret that despite previous constitutional provisions mandating the liberalization from state to private control of Thailand’s broadcast media, your country’s six main television stations are still monopolized by the government and military. We echo the calls of Thailand’s media reform advocates for your government to follow through on previous broadcast media privatization designs in a transparent and politically neutral manner.
We would also encourage your government to enact new legislation to provide legal protection to the 3,000 or so community radio stations now in operation across the country. These stations have operated in a legal vacuum ever since the military seized power in the coup and abrogated the 1997 constitution, which included provisions allowing for the stations’ establishment and operation.
There is also an urgent need for amendments to the Computer Crime Act, which was passed last year by your military predecessors and allows for the authorities to censor news content over the Internet. We are particularly concerned about provisions in the legislation that allow for the imprisonment of writers who disseminate and viewers who access materials that the government has banned, including those which touch critically on the monarchy.
In light of the damage successive administrations have wrought upon Thailand’s tradition of press freedom, your government has a unique opportunity to right the wrongs of your predecessors and, in the process, firmly re-establish the country’s credentials as a proudly democratic nation.
Thank you for your attention and we eagerly await your positive response.
Asia Program Director