BANGKOK — Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra could face senate inquiries into allegations he abused press freedom, for which he is liable to expulsion from office if found guilty.
Senate Speaker Manoonkrit Roopkachorn yesterday accepted from Veera Prateepchaikul, president of the Thai Journalists Association, the media’s petition signed by 1,195 reporters, for parliament to decide if the government had breached constitutional provisions guaranteeing freedom of speech, the public’s rights to information and individual privacy.
Pradit Charoenthaithawee, a National Human Rights commissioner, pledged to forward the government’s alleged threats against the media to the ombudsman and the Administrative Court for investigation.
Dr Pradit also called on Mr Thaksin, Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh and PM’s Office Minister Thammarak Issarangkura na Ayuthaya to step down to take responsibility for allegedly ordering the secret probe of assets of media figures and activists of non-governmental organisations.
In presenting the media petition, Mr Veera said: “We hope the legislative branch, as one of the three sovereign powers, will prove a dependable mechanism of the check-and-balance system at this time when the government is misusing its authority.”
Media professionals felt the need to protect their freedom after the government took a series of actions against its critics, which included the revocation of visas of two Far Eastern Economic Review reporters, a scrutiny of an Abac poll, a ban on an issue of The Economist and an order for the Anti-Money Laundering Office to look into bank accounts of 64 journalists, NGOs members and their families.
Nation Group editor Suthichai Yoon and his son, Prabda, group editor Thepchai Yong and senior editor Sopon Onkgara also handed in their letter calling on the Senate to investigate the government for allegedly breaking the anti-money laundering law and discrediting them. The four are among the people facing Amlo’s asset checks.
Mr Suthichai said an inquiry into the Amlo’s financial scrutiny by a government-appointed panel chaired by cabinet secretary-general Visanu Krue-ngam was insufficient.
“How can a panel at such a level question the head of the government who is also the Amlo chairman?” Mr Suthichai said. “We hope the legislative branch is fearless in making leaders of the executive branch speak.”
Maj-Gen Manoonkrit said he would proceed with urgency. Senate whips will meet today and may resolve to assign the task of investigating Amlo to the committee dealing with independent organisations, and alleged media interference to the panel promoting people’s participation in national administration.
Or a special inquiry panel comprising outsiders could also be set up at the media’s request, Maj-Gen Manoonkrit said. The whips will seek the Senate’s endorsement for their resolutions on Friday.
Maj-Gen Manoonkrit said if the Senate found anyone guilty of power abuse under Article 303 of the constitution, and the National Counter Corruption Commission agreed with its resolution, senators could vote that person out of office.
The senate speaker’s eagerness to do his job was in contrast to that of Parliament President and House Speaker Uthai Pimchaichon, who also received the petition yesterday but said he could do nothing because he was powerless.
Mr Uthai, a list MP of the ruling Thai Rak Thai party, said the media should petition directly to concerned House panels such as the House committee on justice and human rights.
“I suggest that you go from bottom-up instead of top-down,” Mr Uthai told Mr Veera. “I want you to understand that the parliament president has no power to expel anyone. That is the job of MPs.”
The House is expected to debate a motion on problems between the media and the government on Thursday.
Nation Group’s Mr Thepchai, meanwhile, turned down the premier’s chief adviser Sanoh Thienthong’s offer to help broker peace between the government and the media, saying he preferred to wait until the people who ordered the financial scrutiny were unmasked.
A talk now, Mr Thepchai said, would make the public misunderstand that the row was between his Nation Group and the government only, despite the fact that violations of freedom of expression had already become one of society’s problems.