THE DILEMMA OF FREE PRESS IN THAILAND – As a developing democratic county Thailand continues to struggle with the issue of allowing a system of free press. Those in favor of real democracy continuously petitions the government to finally put aside its draconian control over what is and what is not televised and published in print; and yet the Thai government continues to ignore these pleas in order to retain absolute control.
The current Thai government offers to the public that it is a democratic party that fights for the freedom and well-being of its citizens and yet fails to answer many questions put to it by the press. It is no secret that the current Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is the sister of the deposed Prime Minister Thaskin Shinawatra, who was ousted in 2006 by a military coup, and who many believe is still the real power behind the current government. It is also no secret that since her inauguration, she and her cabinet minister, many related or close friends of the Shinawatra family, have spent their time in the pursuit of changing the constitution in order to provide amnesty for Thaskin Shinawatra so that he may return to Thailand and rule once more.
Thailand, like any emerging democracies, does not in fact have a true democracy; it is still to this day controlled by the Bangkok Elite, whose money and power control the policies of the country.
One of the most arcane laws has to be the ‘lese majeste’ law that forbids anyone from saying anything derogatory about the monarchy and anyone found guilty of such an offense faces up to 20 years imprisonment. In 2011, the spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights gave the following statement in Geneva, Switzerland:
“We are concerned about the ongoing trials and harsh sentencing of people convicted of lèse majesté in Thailand and the chilling effect that this is having on freedom of expression in the country. Such harsh criminal sanctions are neither necessary nor proportionate and violate the country’s international human rights obligations.
We urge the Thai authorities to amend the laws on lèse majesté. In the meantime, guidelines should be issued to the police and public prosecutors to stop arresting and charging individuals under these vaguely worded laws. In addition to the disproportionate prison sentences being handed down by the Courts, we are also concerned about the extended periods that accused persons are being held in pre-trial detention.”
It has been almost 3 years since that statement was made and yet, like most violations that Thailand commits, they simply ignore requests to change. As Thailand’s Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung put it so eloquently in 2011; “I have no respect for foreigners or their opinions.” which truly sums up the mentality of the Thai nation.
I read a lot of Asian News and I frequently turn to the Western operated newspapers and online media sites, such as Phuketwan. I have to say that the editor Alan Morrison does put a good spin on the news and more often than not defends the Thais and their actions. This nearly always goes against the grain of its readers who often berate the editor for his misguided views and what appears at times to many readers, his defense of the Thais, which many believe is to appease the local Thai Authorities.
Phuket, Thailand, over the last couple of years has taken a real beating in the level of tourism and this is mainly due to the fact that the Thai authorities were unable, or unwilling, to take action against the rip-offs, scams, muggings, beatings, rape and murder of tourists. These problems still exist today and are, as many believe are getting worse. The local newspapers, such as Phuketwan would always report on all the problems and rightly point out that many could be resolved if the authorities and the police were not corrupt.
In 2012 the Governor of Phuket held a closed door meeting with the foreign press – well those that operated within Thailand. Many of Phuketwan’s readers asked the editor for an account of what was said and the editor refused to give any details other than it was a way for the Thai Authorities to ask the press for more assistance in order to reduce the problems that Phuket was, and still is, experiencing.
The editors’ comments, and more importantly his silence, certainly did nothing for his credibility as a journalist. With the editors unwillingness to disclose what the meeting was entailed the conspiracy theorist started blogging with tales of coercion, threats and the offer of cash to keep quiet on reporting the problems Phuket has.
Is it unreasonable to think that behind closed doors the editors of the western style newspapers were threatened? It was only last January that an outspoken Thai News Reporter, Wisut ”Ae” Tangwittayaporn, was gunned down in the streets, after reporting news on a corrupt individual who was accused of murder and had ties to powerful figures in government.
It is suspected that the Governor of Phuket probably told to curb the reporting on all crime, including scams, rapes, muggings and murders of tourists. It is also suspected each of the editors was likely to be deported if they did not comply.
Conspiracy theories aside, Thailand continues to stifle Freedom of Speech and the Right of Free Expression; however according to some certain politicians are beginning to realize that they simply cannot hide the failings of their administration, or the levels of corruption or murder.
Recently the new governor of Phuket had a meeting with a number of foreign ambassadors, one whom showed the governor that the Krabi Rape Video had been viewed on YouTube over ½ million times – the governor was clearly shocked and sincerely believed that the Ministry of Telecommunications had managed to block people from viewing it – he did, but what the governor and the minister failed to realize is that it could only be blocked in Thailand and the rest of the free world had open access to the information.
Thailand, like most emerging democracies, is struggling with the fact that true democracy requires an open and free media; where people are allowed to voice their opinions, free of persecution and oppression. Will the Thai government change its policies on free press anytime soon? It is most unlikely considering the high levels of corruption in public office and where law enforcement is merely a facade for protecting the corrupt and in the process making money for themselves – it is nothing unusual to see a police officer, with a salary of less that US$500 a month, driving around in a brand new Mercedes Benz without the need for any type of financial loan.
As Thailand continues to develop and the press, outside of Thailand, continues to lay bear its sins, it is getting harder for the government and those pulling the purse strings to justify their levels of corruption and murder. Thailand is also losing vast sums of money, vital for sustaining its economy, from tourism as more holiday makers avoid Thailand due to the scams, rip-offs and other crimes leveled against them.
As for the press within the country… it is unlikely that half the truth is told in all that is printed and this is surly the case when it comes to publications such as Phuketwan who still refuses to divulge the information relay in the closed door meeting with the governor in 2012.
The Thai Government, as with any government, must never be allowed to silence the press. True democracy means freedom of information and the right to expression, without these fundamental building blocks no true democracy can or will exist.