media have become part and parcel of
As the conflict escalates and the government reverts to crude censorship and veiled threats, all kinds of journalists here are bracing for what they fear could be an assault on their ability to neutrally gather and present the news, and a blow to press freedom.
April 12, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva declared a state of emergency that
paved the way for a crackdown on anti-government street protesters who had
surrounded Government House, blockaded main roads in
justified the censorship for reasons of national security, claiming that
certain media outlets had sown chaos and incited violence. The banned
broadcaster, D Station, had carried live Thaksin's video call-ins from exile and
on April 8 more than 100,000 of his United Front for Democracy Against
Dictatorship (UDD) protest movement's supporters gathered in the streets of
That night, he called on his red shirt-wearing supporters to rise up in a "people's revolution" against Abhisit's government. The televised call set the stage for the April 13 military crackdown, when soldiers clashed with demonstrators wielding Molotov cocktails in a pre-dawn raid. More than 100 demonstrators were injured in the melee, many seriously; the government and military claimed nobody was killed and that soldiers only fired blanks into the crowd.
Thaksin and UDD leaders hotly contested that official account, claiming in interviews with international media, including the BBC and CNN, that many protesters were shot, killed, and hauled away in military trucks. They claimed the local media, including state-controlled television stations, was complicit in a government cover-up of the news.
The army owns mainstream channels 5 and 7, while other government agencies own channels 3, 9, and the former Channel 11, now known as the National Broadcasting Services of Thailand. International media and wire agencies that covered the crackdown did not corroborate Thaksin's claims in their reports.
One Bangkok-based foreign diplomat, who spoke with CPJ on condition of anonymity, would not entirely rule out that a few protesters may have been killed in the early morning melee, based on the Thai military's poor human rights record. The same diplomat, however, questioned the authenticity of hazy video footage circulated by the Thaksin-aligned opposition Peua Thai party, which politicians cited as evidence that the military had killed several demonstrators. The government said after a parliamentary debate last week that it will launch an independent probe into the crackdown.
prominent Bangkok-based foreign journalists sense a pro-government bias in
local media coverage of recent events. Foreign Correspondents Club of
"Mainstream print and broadcast media were not censored [but] they had portrayed the Democrat Party-led coalition in a positive light," he wrote.
Abhisit lifted the state of emergency on April 24, but officials continued to block D Station. It was unclear whether the three community radio stations it raided and shuttered during the emergency were back on air. The government lifted its censorship over the 71 Thaksin-aligned Web sites it had earlier blocked, according to the Thai Netizen Network, an Internet freedom advocacy group.
politically aligned media are also under threat. The leader of the competing
was instrumental in broadcasting the PAD's anti-government protests last year,
which culminated in the seizure of
against this chaotic backdrop that many Bangkok-based journalists fear a wider
media crackdown could be coming. The signals from the government are ominous.
Minister Satit Wongnongtaey in the prime minister's office told local media
last week that the government was "watching some sections of the foreign media
who are in and outside of
Satit said the government had recently established a "war room" and launched a "full scale" information war to counter Thaksin's claims carried in the foreign media. He went on to say that the government would soon identify certain foreign journalists who he alleged had backed Thaksin and damaged the country.