Media squeezed in Thai military coup

Bangkok, May 22, 2014–Thailand’s military-led National Peace and Order Maintaining Council today seized administrative power in a coup and ordered local broadcast media to halt regular programming and local satellite and cable service providers to block international news channels, according to news reports. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the military-imposed censorship and calls for an immediate and unconditional restoration of press freedom in the country.

Army Commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha announced the council’s seizure of power from Prime Minister Niwatthamrong Boonsongpaisan’s caretaker administration at around 4 p.m. after a meeting of opposing political groups failed to reach an agreement on the creation of a new interim government, according to reports. The takeover followed the army leader’s invocation of martial law on Tuesday. 

Local broadcasters were forced today to stop their regular programming and instead run still images of the new ruling junta’s banner against the backdrop of military songs, according to social media posts and CPJ research. At around 8 p.m., several international broadcasters, including the BBC, CNN, and Al-Jazeera, were also blocked inside the country. Military-run Channel 5 was the only local station allowed to continue broadcasting as usual, according to CPJ research.

Later today, military officers detained Wanchai Tantiwitthayapithak, deputy director of Thailand Public Broadcasting Service, from the newsroom after the journalist aired news on YouTube despite the military order, according to news reports.

“Today’s military takeover represents a clear and present danger to Thailand’s long-held tradition of press freedom,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative. “While the new ruling junta may believe that media censorship is necessary to restore stability and security, suppression of news is likely to have the opposite effect. Broadcasters and journalists should be free to report during this pivotal political moment in Thailand.”

On Tuesday, Prayuth ordered the closure of at least 11 satellite and cable TV stations and more than 3,000 radio stations across the country in the name of restoring stability amid rising tension between pro- and anti-government protest groups, according to news reports. Troops were positioned inside the newsrooms of several local TV stations, according to reports.

Local reports said that military authorities, in cooperation with the state-run National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, had ordered more than 50 local Internet service providers to filter within one hour any news or commentary carried on their platforms that “distort facts, instigate disorder, or create fear and misunderstanding.” The local True Corporation shuttered six unnamed websites in line with the martial law announcements, the reports said.