[Thailand] Television host, activist face defamation charges over election coverage and comments

Voice TV host Sirote Klampaiboon and civil rights activist Nuttaa Mahattana received summons for defamation charges by the Election Commission of Thailand (ECT) on 5 April 2019, according to a report by Prachatai English.

Sirote Klampaiboon (Source: Facebook)

On his Facebook post, translated to English by Prachatai, Klampaiboon said: “I’m still confused about how I had defamed the ECT. If it’s about expressing my own opinion, I’m confident that, when I talk about the ECT, I said that we need to separate ‘error’, ‘mistake’, ‘lack of transparency’ and ‘corruption’.”

“If this is because of my job as a TV host, my job is to invite guests to express their opinion, so I don’t understand why that’s wrong,” he added. “But by principle, I think it’s not appropriate for the ECT, as a government agency, to be filing charges against citizens, especially not a charge that could result in a 2-year prison term, regardless of who is being sued.”

Nuttaa Mahattana (Source: Facebook)

Mahattana said on her Facebook post that this is her fifth summon. “I’m sure I didn’t slander anyone,” she said in Thai, also translated into English by Prachatai.

“What I did that day was informing the people about the election rules, especially about photographing, which affects the capability of election observers. I insist that, when there are several misunderstandings among the officials, it is a reflection of the ECT’s capabilities.”

The digital television channel, which has links with political actors including former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra family, has been penalized at least 20 times since 2014. In mid-February this year, it was slapped with a 15-day suspension by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission over program content deemed to have “caused confusion and social division.” The Administrative Court lifted the order two weeks later in a response to a complaint filed by Voice TV.

This has been the first general elections for Thailand, which has been under the military rule for five years since 2014. Pre-election reports, including by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance, noted that the Thai media have been limited by a number of repressive regulations, leading among others to self-censorship and lack of public access to meaningful information.

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