TJA Says Year 2002 was the Year of Media Co-optation

8 January 2003

Thai Journalists Association (TJA) says the Year 2002 marks the year of media co-optation when overall abuses against press freedom declined as the government’s interference with the media become more sophisticated and subtle.

In its annual report on January 2, TJA said the most serious violation against press freedom in the history of Thai Democracy was the government’s instruction to Anti-money Laundering Organization (Amlo) to probe assets of editors and columnists critical of governments and Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The report reiterated that the overall decline, compared to last year, was attributed to the continuing public campaigns on free-media raised by media advocacy groups and academics. Another factor was that the government’s tactics of media interference has become more sophisticated.

TJA pointed out while cases involving state intimidation against broadcast media and physical attacks on local journalists decreased, the state intimidation remained well entrench.

It said government agencies intimidate critical radio and television programs came out with reports damaging the image of government and the country. In effect, program producers were forced to tone down their news contents for economic survivability.

According to TJA, the government’s use of its economic pressure as bargaining chip to prod newspaper to toe its line has become more prominent. Two editors were forced to resign.

TJA attributed the decline physical harassment against the media to the fact that local influential figures became more vulnerable to the law enforcement. And vice versa, local media coverage on corruption case involved influential figures in the provinces has reduced for fear of political backlash.

TJA said momentum in media reform in accordance with Article 40 of the 1997 Constitution continued a slow pace. Despite some progress made in the redrafting of broadcast laws and legalizing of community radios, the draconian Printing Act of 1941 that prevented free press remained in place despite repeated calls for its repeal.

On the violation of media ethics, The Press Council of Thailand (TPCT), a media self-regulatory body that supervises media ethics has received 13 complaints mainly concerning inaccurate reports, the violation of women rights and misplaced display of advertisement. In the most instance, media in question observed the TPCT ruling to compensate the complainants if they found to have violated its ethical standards. Other cases were acquitted if the ruling turned out that the news reports in question were professionally treated.

TPCT also issued a statement outlining a guideline for newspapers’ reports on rape and murder with due respect of the victims’ dignity and of rights of women, children and less fortunate groups.

TPCT will also cooperate with Aids Patients’ Right Protection Center to draw guidelines for media coverage of Aids cases to avoid violating against human rights of the patients.

Violations against the Media recorded by TJA are as follow:

State’s Abuses of Powers Against the Media

1. Parliaments’ program on Channel 11 has been canceled and replaced with state agencies’ public relation programs
2. Army Energy Department issued an order on March 5, 2002 to its radio concessionaire to withdraw The Nation’s news talks program from its station on ground that the program was too critical of the government.
3. Anti-Money Laundering Organization sent letters to commercial banks on March 6, 2002 to scrutinize assets of executive editors of The Nation, Thai Post and Naew Na who were critical of the government.
4. A group of reporters from Trang province filed a complaint against Trang governor’s threat to use its authority under the 1941 Printing Act to close Khao Seri local newspaper, citing the newspaper’s reports caused instability.

Threats and Physical Intimidation Against the Media

1. March 7, 2002: A prime minister confidant threatened to slap face of a Thai Post reporter, attached to the Government House as he was discontent with the newspaper’s articles on Amlo’s investigation.
2. June 17, 2002: Four men disguised as police officers raided a house belonging to a report of INN radio station, claiming the reporter’s news coverage antagonizing someone at the National Police Bureau.
3. June 30, 2002: Editor of Trat Daily was attacked by a staff of a ferry company at Laem Ngob District while photographing the company’s workers up-loading automobiles onto the ferry.
4. July 17, 2002: unidentified attacker smashed windows of a pick-up truck belonging to editor of

Pattaya Weekly. It is believed that the attack was attributed to his expose of gambling den in Pattaya.
5. September 15, 2002: A female reporter of Matichon newspaper accused a veteran politician Sanan

Khachornprasart of molesting her while she was on duty at a hotel in Ratchadapisek Rd.