Thai media censored under martial law

Bangkok, May 20, 2014–The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns military censorship of the media, including the forced broadcasting of martial law orders and announcements, in Thailand. 

Army Commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha invoked martial law today amid rising political tension and escalating violence between pro- and anti-government protest groups in the national capital. The country’s 1914 martial law act gives the army leader sweeping discretionary powers to limit civil liberties and curb press freedoms.

At least 10 cable and satellite TV stations were ordered to stop broadcasting until further notice under a public announcement by the newly created Peace-Keeping Command Center, according to news reports. The stations included ASTV, Asia Update, BlueSky, DNN, FourChannel, MFTV, MV5, P&P, Tnews, and UDD, the reports said.

The stations, some of which serve openly as mouthpieces for political protest groups, were shut down to prevent them from spreading “false information” and to “maintain law and order,” according to news reports citing the military announcement. Unlicensed radio stations were also ordered to stop broadcasting, reports said.

A separate martial law announcement requires all local radio and television stations to stop regular programming upon command and broadcast military announcements, according to news reports. The order affects all government and privately run broadcast media, the reports said. More than 100 troops seized control of the two facilities of the country’s sole satellite operator in Pathum Thani and Nonthaburi provinces to enforce the censorship order, the reports said.

The same order gives the military authority to ban the print media from publishing, distributing, or selling news or images that could adversely affect the PKCC’s operations. The statement said the discretionary powers were necessary to ensure the public receives only “correct and accurate information.” There were no immediate reports today of censorship of print or online media.  

“Thailand’s military has wrongly equated censoring the media with restoring stability,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Army commander General Prayuth Chan-ocha should roll back immediately all martial law orders that aim to suppress and control the media, and refrain from censoring the press. Thailand needs more, not less, open debate about its political problems.”

The media has come under fire by both sides of Thailand’s conflict. On May 9, People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) anti-government protesters occupied several state-owned TV stations in an attempt to stop them from broadcasting news about the caretaker government and to instead air news about the protest group’s activities, according to news reports and a statement by local journalist groups. PDRC protesters have laid siege to and attempted to influence news coverage of the country’s six main local free-to-air TV stations on at least three separate occasions since the group began protesting in November 2013, according to CPJ research.

On May 14, local Channel 7 news reporter Tomchan Boonsai was assaulted by a group of pro-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD) protesters after he filmed a group of them complaining to a broker that they had not received promised payments for participating in the rally, according to local reports. Protesters forcibly confiscated the video of the incident from his camera, the reports said.