The International Federation of Journalists said that developments in Thailand, where a media campaigner faces ruin in a Government court action, mirror the media crisis in Italy where politics and media ownership mix at the highest level.
“We witness the same political arrogance, the same conflict of interest and the same intolerance when it comes to dealing with people calling for democratic reform,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary in a statement issued on June 25, 2004. “Thai legislators are sacrificing pluralism and democracy to give unyielding control of major media to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.”
The IFJ is calling on the Government to lift a court action against former broadcast journalist Supinya Klangnarong, Secretary-General of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform and three editors of the Thai Post newspaper who are accused of libel against the business empire Shin Corp, one of the country’s leading media operators in which the Prime Minister’s family is the largest shareholder.
“The government’s grip on the media landscape in Thailand is intolerable and now we have a vendetta against journalists challenging this state of affairs,” said Aidan White, IFJ General Secretary. “Not only is the Prime Minister guilty of harassment and intimidation of journalists, it appears he is ready to use the courts to try to eliminate any criticism.”
This court action was launched after the Thai Post reported on comments Supinya made in a seminar in October last year criticising Shin Corp for benefiting from the policies of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s government. She pointed out Shin Corp’s majority-ownership by the prime minister’s family and how profits have skyrocketed by almost 40 billion Bt (~980m USD) since the Prime Minister took office in 2001.
“This case represents a scandalous Berlusconi-style conflict of interests between the political and private interests of the Prime Minister,” said White. “It also raises serious concerns that this model will be adopted in other countries of Asia and elsewhere.”
The IFJ today issued a protest letter to Mr. Boonklee Plangsiri Chairman of the Group Executive Committee and the Thai Prime Minister asking for the case against Supinya and the Thai Post editors to be dropped before they go to trial on September 6, in Bangkok.
“It is unconscionable to try to stifle debate about the emerging pattern of media ownership by large conglomerates in Thailand,” said White and “we demand that the government ends this intimation and harassment of journalists who attempt to speak out on behalf of the public interest.”
Shin Corp owns the country’s biggest mobile-phone company and Internet provider (AIS) and holds a monopoly on the satellite communications business. It also holds a major share in the iTV television station. In addition, Shin Corp has gobbled this Southeast Asian country’s only independent and privately owned television station up.
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The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 100 countries