Broadcasters stand firm against CNS 'gag'order
Thai broadcast journalists said yesterday they were undeterred by the Council for National Security's (CNS) order to stop airing views from the deposed prime minister and his Thai Rak Thai Party and would continue to report the views of both sides.
In an apparent backtrack following strong criticism from the media and free speech advocates, CNS chairman Gen Sonthi Boonyaratglin said the CNS had only requested cooperation from media.
"If the media doesn't give us the cooperation, we can't force them. It depends on the media's willingness," he said.
On Wednesday, CNS secretary-general Gen Winai Phattiyakul declared that if the media continued to ignore requests to present only "constructive" news, the CNS would have to resort to stricter measures to make them conform.
Takern Somsup, president of the Thai Broadcasting Journalists Association (BJA), yesterday issued a statement urging the CNS to review its order to restrict media freedom.
"We are confident in the judgement of media practitioners and reject interference from anybody," read the statement, which was also signed by the Thai Journalists Association (TJA).
Takern, a radio host, told The Nation he would continue to use his own judgement during broadcasts and would not comply with the CNS' order.
"It was wrong and we will protest if they pursue it," he said.
However, the statement also urged members of the media to be more cautious in their reporting to avoid causing public confusion and becoming tools of ill-wishers.
Prime Minister Surayud Chula-nont said yesterday that his government welcomed all opinions, but the media had to use their own judgement in reporting news.
"The media should know what would benefit the country under these circumstances," Surayud said, adding that he couldn't specify which media reported news inappropriately.
Any further cooperation depends on the CNS, as the agency in charge of national security, he said.
CNS assistant secretary Gen Saprang Kalayanamitr said the council had not intended to threaten or challenge the media. He said Wednesday's reference to martial law, which empowers officials to take any action deemed necessary for national security, was incidental.
"We asked for cooperation in military style. It may sound too harsh to say that if the media doesn't follow our orders we will withdraw the programmes, but in Thai style we never implement that," he said, adding that the press in Thailand had more freedom than in many other countries.
Saprang said, however, the CNS would only shut or seize TV or radio stations as a last resort.
The Union for Civil Liberty (UCL) urged the CNS to let people use their own judgement on whether they should believe news reports or not.
"If the CNS thinks a media outlet is doing wrong, it should deal with it by judicial process," the UCL said in a statement yesterday.
It said the CNS might be unfamiliar with freedom of expression and press freedom, which are basic rights in a democratic society.
Chaturon Chaisang, acting leader of Thai Rak Thai Party, yesterday called a press conference to say that the party would continue to comment on the country's situation and to monitor the CNS, the government and government agencies.
"But whether it is reported in the news or not we leave to the media's judgement," he said, adding that he was confident that the media would not accept the CNS' orders in that regard.
Chaturon said the CNS order discriminated against the Thai Rak Thai and he hoped the CNS chairman and the prime minister, who have kept taking about justice, rights and freedom, would urgently review it.
Human Rights Commissioner Jaran Dithapichai said the CNS order for broadcast media to cease airing opposition views was not only intimidation against press freedom, but affected freedom of expression - particularly of politicians and political parties, and especially the Thai Rak Thai Party.
Meanwhile Suriyasai Katasila, secreatry general of Campaign for Popular Democracy (CPD) suggested the CNS focus solely on a media channel which was a mouthpiece of Thaksin. Surayisai said he agreed with the CNS that some broadcast media and hosts of television and radio programmes were acting as mouthpieces of the old power and these media should review their role as well.
But summoning the broadcast media was sensitive and could confuse the public as well as give a negative image that was not different from Thaksin's regime, he said.
"The CNS should better expose to the public names of the broadcast channels and hosts of which programmes acting as political tools of the old power," the CPD secretary general suggested.
Suriyasai also warned the "old power" would fight back "underground" if the CNS totally banned airing views of Thaksin and former core leaders of Thai Rak Thai.