Press Hits Back at Thaksin’s Claim They Had Hidden Agenda in Attacking Him

Confederation of Thai Journalists (CTJ), a local media advocacy group comprising nine local media organizations today rebutted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s claim Thai media had hidden agenda, saying this was an attempt to divert public attention from his administration’s abuses of press freedom and individual’s freedom of expression

In its statement, CTJ said Thaksin’s latest salvo fired on local media is ambiguous and could send the wrong signal to the public that all press that opposed to his views had “hidden agenda”. CTJ said the remarks sought to undermine trust the public had on responsible media.

The statement followed Thaksin’s remarks appeared in the latest issue the Far Eastern Economic Review (FEER), the Hongkong-based magazine that was in the hit list of his administration over the last three months.

In the interview, Thaksin accused the press of seeking conflict issue and gave him unfair criticism.

He also perceived the media’s pounding on him as seeking revenge on his refusal to give some of them sponsorship when he still ran telecom giant Shin Corp.

“Sometimes, some press may have some hidden agenda, which they have had for years. They have not been happy from the time I was in business because they asked me for sponsorship that I did not give them. They attack unfairly. I’m trying to forget. But they never forget,” Thaksin asserts.

He also rejected charges that he has used his business empire to assert leverage over the media through the group’s advertising accounts. “I never asked any press to say something good about me. I just ask for fairness. I don’t need criticism–just give me justice, a fair report. The press is now using new sources which are one-sided. I just ask for balanced news, fairness.”

CTJ statement suggested Thaksin should distinguish between the duty of media to present problems and offer criticism and the commercial relationship between business companies and the media. It said commercial sponsorship awarded to media companies is a reciprocal deal where both side benefits. ”But the Prime Minister spoke as if awarding sponsorship to Media Company is a matter of favor,” it said.

CTJ urged Thaksin to play by the rule by filing complaints with Press Council of Thailand if he found any media organizations with “hidden agenda” as he has claimed. ‘To Speak tongue in check like this could be interpreted as an attempt to divert public attention from the government’s infringement upon press freedom and individual rights to free expression.

“After all, the Prime minister never attended to demands from public, media and academic circles for him to make clear his commitment to media freedom,” it said.

Thaksin’s relation with the local and foreign media has been turbulent from the start of his administration last February. A new conflict erupted in this March when Defense Energy Department took the Nation Multimedia Group’s radio news programs off its airwave following the interview with Prasong Soonsiri on Thaksin’s heavy-handed approach on foreign media.

Moreover, Anti-Money Laundering Organization also issued an unlawful order to probe the assets of prominent media figures who have been critical of Thaksin.

This attempt to curb media freedom followed Thai police’s clampdown on FEER who wrote in its Intelligence column of the January 10 issue about the unsound relationship between Thaksin and the Palace. The article furiated Thaksin and prompted police’s investigation on who leaked the information.

Thaksin’s administration never used proper legal means to settle the row and resort to heavy-handed approaches to tranquilize his critics. FEER was later pressured to apologize for the article in question in order to be able to continue operating its office in Thailand. The Economist backed off from circulating its March 2 edition in Thailand in return for no-legal action against the magazine.

In its March2 edition, which featured a special report on Thailand, the magazine gave a bleak outlook for Thai economy under Thaksin and referred to the monarchy’s role in development.