17 November 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
The outspoken founder of a local multi-media group this week got a personal “warning” from the commander of Thailand’s Royal Guard, who urged him to desist from citing the King’s name every time he criticized Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
Manager Media Group founder Sondhi Limthongkul, who hosts a political talk show that he has taken on the road, on 16 November personally received a letter from Major General Pruen Suwannathat, Commander of the 1st Infantry Division of the Thai Royal Guard. In his letter, the general said Sondhi was unnecessarily dragging the king’s name into controversy every time he made criticisms against the Prime Minister.
On 15 November, Gen. Pruen–Thaksin’s classmate at military school—told Thai journalists that he was inclined to lead his troops to meet Sondhi to express his disapproval of the media baron’s improper use of the monarchy’s name. The following day, he sent an officer to deliver a protest and plea on his behalf.
Reacting to the general’s message, Sondhi said Pruen was acting as if he were the guardian of “Thaksin’s throne” rather than a Royal Guard. He also said he doubted that the general was speaking for all of Thailand’s 14,000 royal guards, or that his actions were sanctioned by the chief of the Thai army.
Pruen’s statement on 15 November drew a strong protest from Thai Journalists Association and Thai Broadcast Journalists Association. In a joint statement issued on 16 November, the two organizations said Pruen should be conscious that his words could be deemed as threatening to freedom of the press in Thailand.
“He had every right to express his feelings, but he should not do it by using his position as a senior military officer, or by intimidating people through his words or gestures,” the statement said.
Sondhi has long caught the ire of Thailand’s ruling Thai Rak Thai Party. His talk show, Thailand Daily, regularly criticizes the Thaksin government, accusing it of corruption and questionable governance. The show is aired every Friday on ASTV satellite channel, which is operated by Sondhi, and reproduced and distributed nationwide in VCD format.
The show originally aired on the government network Channel 9, but was axed in mid-September ostensibly for containing improper content and one-sided remarks. Since then, Sondhi has transformed his show into a travelling forum, a mobile talk show that brings its criticisms of government direct to communities around Thailand.
Sondhi and his co-host were later sued for defamation by Thaksin for suggesting on his program that the Prime Minister had abused the king’s prerogatives in appointing a religious leader. Members of Parliament from the Thai Rak Thai party said they might sue Sondhi for lese majesties if he continues to involve the monarchy in his criticisms against Thaksin.
On 15 November, the Thai Public Relations Department ordered cable-television operators to desist from airing ASTV programs. Minister Suranand Vejjajiva, whose office supervises the PRD, said the ban was enforced because ASTV does not have a license for television broadcasts.