[Thailand] Pullout of host from election debate show an infringement of press freedom, broadcast group says

The Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA) has appealed to the state-run Mass Communications Organisation of Thailand (MCOT) to revisit its decision to remove the co-host of the election debate program “Election War ‘62” owing to her alleged “bias” against the government.

On 1 March 2019, news anchor Orawan Choodee reported on Facebook that she had been relieved of her hosting duties by the board of MCOT, a move that she believed was an offshoot of the 28 February debate, the show’s second episode.

Students who participated in the live debate were polled on some political questions, “a pretext for an attack on the government,” wrote Bangkok Post.  

In its statement released 2 March 2019, TBJA said the MCOT order was a breach of media freedom and the public’s right to information.

MCOT president Kematat Paladesh denied that Choodee was fired from the program. “I’d like to apologize for the miscommunication and take responsibility for what happened,” he said on Saturday (2 March).

He added that for the next episode of the program, which will air on 7 March 2019, “we might swap the original hosts with another pair who have more expertise in economic and financial issues.” (see Khaosod English article)

MCOT union’s president Suwit Mingmol has also called for a review of the sanction.

Choodee co-costed the “Election 62” program with veteran journalist Veera Thirapat. The show airs on Modern 9 television station, which is operated by the public broadcaster.

In her online post, which was subsequently removed, Choodee disclosed that an order from the board of the MCOT “relieving me of my duties as a subordinate” was issued to her on Friday (1 March), the Bangkok Post reported.

“As one of the hosts, and a person who designed the format of the two debates on MCOT, I respect the decision of the board,” Khaosod English quoted Choodee as saying in her Facebook message.

“But as a journalist who’ve been actively working for almost 30 years, I won’t accept being branded that I was being biased in my duty.”

TBJA said “the role of the media in the lead-up to the March 24th election is crucial in arousing public awareness of the need to exercise their voting rights and to scrutinize policies which are beneficial to the public.”   

Thailand’s much-anticipated election has been postponed numerous times by the ruling military junta.

The first episode of “Election War ‘62” live debates aired on 21 February and featured four representatives of the major parties contesting the upcoming vote. The 28 February edition, “New People, New Politics,” featured 10 first-time Member of Parliament candidates.

During the debate 100 university students were asked if they agreed or disagreed with the following statements (see Prachathai article):

  1. Do you agree with [Thailand’s Prime Minister] Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha’s decision not to debate his political opponents?
  2. Do you agree with the provisional clause in the 2017 Constitution allowing the 250 senators to vote for the Prime Minister?
  3. Do you think that the 20-year National Strategy is necessary for Thailand?
  4. Do you agree that it does not matter whether Thailand is fully or partially democratic as long as people’s lives are improved?

The National Strategy is a 20-year political blueprint prepared by the National Council for Peace and Order, or the military junta.

Shortly after reports of Choodee’s removal from the show broke, the hashtag #saveorawan began to circulate as part of an outpour of public support for her while MCOT drew public backlash. 

Hazwany Jamaluddin

Program Assistant at Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

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