Photo - Engin Akyurt

Media Representatives Suggest the Freedom of Media
Has Been Reduced over the Past Two Year

21 May 2016


Many Thai and foreign media representatives have agreed that the freedom of media in Thailand has been reduced over the past 2 years. They also stated that while citizen journalists have played a more important role in the discussion event by NBTC, Amnesty and Thai Broadcast Journalists Association.


National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) together with Amnesty International Thailand and Thai Broadcast Journalists Association held a discussion even on the topic of “Media in this Era, What Era of Freedom” on 17th May 2016 to celebrate the World Press Freedom Day which is on the 3rd May of every year. The event attracted the mass media, civil society and more than 130 interested people.


Supinya Klangnarong, Director of NBTC, delivered an opening speech emphasizing on the significance of freedom of expression which was sparked on this day 24 years ago in the Black May Event. At that time, the mass media was an important tool in expressing the power of public expression.


The discussion began with sharing local media experience by Nuannoi Thammasatian a journalist in the three southern-border provinces, and a former BBC correspondent pointed out the structural vulnerability of communication in the three southern-border provinces. After the coup, even though the overall freedom of expression was still relatively stable, talking about political issues became more difficult which adversely affected the attempt to encourage the peace process. Nuannoi stated that the government should accept that resolving the conflicts in the area required political talk and public participation. Therefore, the key challenge is how all parties can encourage the political talk with undemocratic system in which there is no freedom for the media.


As for the area in Phuket Province, Chutima Seedasatian from Phuket Wan News Agency stated that local media relied on capitalist or power groups of people in the area which resulted in many limitations in reporting news. Many times, the media has been pressured by capitalists and local authorities, both in the form of bullying, prosecution, cutting off financial support, so the media cannot report the news straightforwardly.


Somkiet Chantasima, Director of Public Media Network, Thai PBS, deemed that in an unusual political climate, citizen media played a vital role in filling the missing parts of the mainstream media, but the rise of citizen media has resulted in more citizen journalists fighting with the government and many of them have been threatened, prosecuted and requested to adjust their attitude. In many areas, there is use of violence, physical abuse or even enforced disappearance.


As for the mainstream media, Yuwadee Thanyasiri, a senior correspondent from Bangkok Post Newspaper shared her experience having been working with the military government and civilians for more than 40 years. She pointed out that the media should have a clear duty to present facts to the people regardless of what kind of government, safeguard the common interests and not get in conflict with anyone party. However, in terms of the freedom of the media, Yuwadee suggested that the media itself often lacks information screening and rarely chooses to present in-depth social problems. It can be seen from investigations which have previously been less focused.


While the media has been seen to be in conflict, Panika Vanich, a news reporter from Voice TV, expressed an opinion that regulatory mechanisms were good, but under unusual political circumstances, these mechanisms became instrumentals of the authoritarian governments to gain interests. Moreover, it also showed disbelief in the maturity of the people. The major challenge of this period is that no one knows how accurate news presentation should be due to the scope of law and enforcement which is dependent on the authority. As a result, many media sources have chosen to resort to self-censorship.


Somruthai Supsomboon, a political news editor at Nation News Agency said that in the past the authorities were trying to control the media, whether the dictatorship government or the government from the election. However, with the growth of new media nowadays, the existing mechanisms can no longer completely control the media. Therefore, there is an attempt to create an atmosphere of terror and expand the power to not only control the media but also to limit the public opinions.


In a foreign media’s perspective, Stephen Herman, a representative of Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT), said that many foreign media chose to set up their office in Bangkok due to many favorable factors, as well as the political climate in the past which was more open than Thailand’s neighbors. Nevertheless, the situation after the latest coup made foreign media more cautious and may make some media to relocate to neighboring countries. Steve suggested that the government should see the importance of Thailand being a regional media hub which does not only benefit the media but also the business and academic sectors of Thailand.


The last person to participate in the discussion was Suban Rakchua, Vice-Chancellor of Thai Radio and Television Journalists Association. He believed that the power to strengthen the media was public participation in presenting news to reflect their needs, such as in the form of citizen journalists. Last but not least, Suban suggested that people should keep an eye on the laws related to Media Reform Act and NBTC Act, as well as calling for the repeal of the NCPO’s order which is against the principles of freedom of expression.