Bangkok, October 25, 2011 – The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by reports that Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra’s government has tried to censor the citizen-journalist website Thaiflood, which has provided crucial news and information about massive flooding that has inundated one-third of the country’s provinces. At least 350 people have been killed and millions dislocated by the natural disaster.
Local news reports said the state-run Flood Relief Operations Command had issued a new requirement that Thaiflood submit its reports to the government for approval before publication. Thaiflood had been based in the government’s flood relief operations command, where the site’s operators worked collaboratively with the government for two weeks. The relationship soured after the government tried to control what Thaiflood published. Emergency officials were apparently upset about one of Thaiflood’s high-water warnings, with a spokesman saying the site should not cause “panic.”
Poramote Minsiri, Thaiflood’s founder, told news outlets that he objected to the government screening his site’s reports. “I told them I can’t do it that way. In a crisis, people are waiting for information for their own survival,” Poramote was quoted saying in the English-language daily Bangkok Post. In the piece, Poramote also accused the government of providing inadequate information and said its crisis management team was hampered by conflicts.
Thaiflood has now moved its operations to a private office, where it also publishes Twitter news updates at #thaiflood. The new arrangement means the site can operate without interference but also without direct access to the government’s flood command center. (The flood command center’s offices were reported flooded on Tuesday.)
“We call on Yingluck Shinawatra’s government to stop interfering with independent news sites that are playing a crucial role in keeping the public informed about Thailand’s flood disaster,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “It is essential in evolving crisis situations that the public has access to uncensored, independent news that can be crucial to protecting livelihoods and saving lives.”
Yingluck’s government has come under widespread media fire for its response to the natural disaster, which now threatens to inundate Bangkok. Different state agencies under her command have made conflicting assessments and predictions about the intensity and direction of the water runoff, which local and international news reports have estimated to represent the worst flooding in Thailand in more than five decades.