ALERT: Military cancels forum on Thai media landscape

A media forum in Bangkok scheduled last ​Friday to launch a report measuring the Thai media landscape was cancelled following an order of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

The NCPO, which staged a military coup d’etat to end the country’s political impasse on May 22, 2014, reportedly told organizers ​two days earlier that the event may touch on controversial content that can have repercussions for the military junta’s ongoing effort to restore peace and order.

The German political foundation Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES), together with the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), were scheduled to launch the Asia Media Barometer: Thailand 2014 on Friday 30 January.

TJA vice president Manop Thip-osod said the NCPO’s concerns were understandable, but it should have been more circumspect of whether a press conference would have the potential to inflame tensions, as the military suggested.The cancellation of a forum on media freedom, raises “concern over basic rights to expression” and “a loss of opportunity” to hear academic research, Manop said.

The last minute cancellation of the event came about amid growing criticisms in the media and by other countries of the six-month-old government, led by coup leader Gen Prayuth Chan-o-cha in handling justice and national reconciliation as well as the reform process.

However, the verbal military order to “postpone indefinitely” the launch was made by phone to FES and the forum venue on January 28. By that time however, the summary of the report has already been widely circulated.

“Stopping the report’s launch is rather unfortunate,” said Gayathry Venkiteswaran, SEAPA executive director.

“The opportunity for a more nuanced understanding of the media landscape in Thailand was lost, as it could have provided a good starting point for media reform.” she explained.

The cancellation order comes in the wake of widespread criticism of the cabinet’s proposal for 10 controversial bills on the digital economy seen to institutionalize restrictions on online freedom of expression and violate the right to privacy of citizens.

Stakeholder report

FES’s second report measures the media landscape and conditions in Thailand between 2011-2014. It rated the Thai media situation at 2.475, dropping from the 2.7 from the first report in 2010, which is also a year of political turbulence that saw a violent government crackdown on the pro-Thaksin political movement.

The findings showed the imposition of martial law and the military coup d’etat on 22 May 2014 have had a major impact on the lower score on Thailand’s media freedom and freedom of expression.

FES, which focuses on democracy, labour rights and freedom of expression, among other issues, releases this report periodically, and has produced its analysis with national stakeholders for a number of countries.

Scoring, with 5 as the highest, is based on a measurement of four key components that influence the media industry: protection of media freedom and freedom of expression, media diversity and sustainability, independence and fairness in media regulation, and high professional standards.

The scorers represent media stakeholders in Thailand, including media professional groups, individual journalists, academics as well as a representative of Southeast Asia Press Alliance (SEAPA).

The FES report states that the Thai media has undergone rapid changes over the past five years, having been shaped and directed by major political changes between 2010 and 2014.