The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) strongly denounces the order of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to suspend Voice TV, forcing the broadcast outfit to go off the air for 15 days starting Wednesday, 13 February 2019.
“Several news items from the station run the risk of causing confusion and inciting conflict or divisions in the kingdom,” said NBTC as reported by Khaosod English.
“The regulator is using its power as stated by [military junta] order No. 97/2014.”
Thai-language business daily Prachachart Turakij reported that NBTC commissioner Lt. Gen. Peerapong Manakit said that the suspension order stemmed from a submission of complaints over broadcasts of two news talk programs, Tonight Thailand (16 December 2018) and Wake Up News (21, 28, 29 January and 4 February 2019).
“Such perceived risk is unwarranted and could only be construed as yet another unmistakable curtailment of press freedom by the ruling junta,” said SEAPA in a statement.
Thailand is scheduled to hold its national elections on 24 March 2019.
“At a time when Thailand is on the cusp of a new election that has been put off countless times, much to the frustration of a nation that has grown weary of military rule, the NBTC’s order could not have sent off a stronger signal.”
“That is, the state will not countenance media outfits, who, in asserting their fundamental right to inform and engage the public in meaningful discussions of important issues, dare cross the former’s path,” added SEAPA.
“Voice TV sees that we were repeatedly treated unfairly and it is time we need to stand up for press freedom. Voice TV will take legal action to set the standard of NBTC’s power back in line with rule of law and press freedom, which has been questioned and challenged since the 2014 coup,” said Voice TV chief executive officer Makin Petplai in a statement.
“Voice TV will appeal to the Constitutional Court as soon as possible, and will do our best to continue our duty to serve news to the people,” he added.
In effect since 18 July 2014, National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) No. 97/2014 bans the dissemination of information that could harm national security.
Last year, NBTC suspended the programs The Daily Dose and Wake Up News for three days and Tonight Thailand for 15 days. The station also had to suspend Wake Up News commentators Sirote Klampaiboon and Viroj Ali and cartoonist Sia for a month.
There have been similar orders against the station in years past, ranging from warnings, suspensions of commentators, programs, and partial and full blackouts and shutdowns.
The digital television channel is owned by political actors including the Shinawatra family of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin.
Journalists and advocates of press freedom and free expression have lamented government restrictions on the media since the 2014 military coup, when the civilian government under then Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra was ousted from power.
In December 2018, the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) described NCPO No. 97/2014, No.103/2014, Article 5 of No.3/2015, and No.41/2016 as “interfering” with Thai media’s role of ensuring an informed and engaged public, especially in the run-up to the election.
In a media-public forum organized by SEAPA on 31 January 2019, representatives of news organizations and members of Thai civil society tackled the challenges confronting the Thai media amid suppression by the junta of their right to report freely and without fear of intimidation or risk of prosecution by the government.
During the dialogue, called “Public Forum on Election and Media Coverage in Thailand: Challenges and Opportunities for Broadening Public Discourse,” Voice TV senior online editor Pinpaka Ngamson rued the “limitations” faced by Thai media as a result of “ambiguous and stringent laws and regulations.” (see article: [Thailand] Media-public forum shines a light on bleak realities of election reporting)