Thai junta expands media controls

Bangkok, July 21, 2014–In a mounting clampdown on press, Internet, and social media freedoms, a new military directive in Thailand has barred any critical reporting or commentary about the ruling National Council for Peace and Order junta. The Committee to Protect Journalists calls for an immediate reversal of the freedom-curbing edict and all other measures that promote self-censorship and have been imposed since the military seized power in May.

Army commander and coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha imposed martial law in May and seized power two days later from Prime Minister Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan’s caretaker government. His ruling junta has since sharply curbed media criticism by blocking websites and cable TV news stations, intimidating outspoken reporters, and pressuring the mainstream broadcast and print media to soften its news coverage, according to CPJ research.

“This overbroad order against any media criticism represents an open invitation for state authorities to arbitrarily abuse their powers in suppressing the media,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s Southeast Asia representative. “If junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha was genuine about his stated intention of reforming politics and restoring democracy, his junta would promote, not curb, press and Internet freedoms.”

Promulgated late Friday, the edict, Announcement No. 97, bans all media and social media users from disseminating the opinions of independent scholars, retired civil servants, and former court, judicial office, and independent organization employees in a manner that could “create conflicts, distort facts, confuse society or lead to violence,” according to local reports.

The edict also prohibits any criticism of the ruling junta’s policies, operations, and representatives and bans the publication or broadcast of any government agency information deemed confidential, other reports said. Soldiers, provincial governors, and police officials are given discretionary powers to shut down any media outlets perceived of violating the order, the reports said.

The edict replaces and expands on two previous junta announcements, Nos. 14 and 18, that warned the mainstream media and social media users against disseminating any information that could “incite conflict” or “cause problems” among the public, the reports said. The new order also requires media outlets to broadcast any junta-ordered announcements or information.

Earlier this month, military authorities detained newsmagazine editor Thanapol Eawsakul for four days over critical comments he made about military rule on the social networking site Facebook. At least two journalists have been temporarily detained and interrogated by military authorities since the junta seized power nearly two months ago.

The National Council for Peace and Order has cracked down hard on the media by blocking cable TV stations and websites, shuttering more than 3,000 unlicensed radio stations, and pressuring mainstream broadcast and print outlets to soften their news coverage. On June 25, the junta established four panels to monitor news outlets and social media sites that are tasked with preventing the spread of “misinformation” about the junta and “hatred” of the monarchy.

It was not immediately clear if the newly created censorship panels would play a role in enforcing the new edict.