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Litmus test for Thailand’s ruling military council: Leave the press alone

ROBY Alampay, executive director of the Bangkok-based regional media watchdog, Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), wrote an op-ed piece that came out in The Nation yesterday, appealing for help in getting the word out about the need to impress upon the military council — which has taken over the government of Thailand following a bloodless coup last Tuesday — the importance of keeping the Thai media free and independent in these abnormal times.

For sure, Alampay says, many Thais welcome the ouster of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. “Most people in Bangkok do seem genuinely thankful for the military action,” he says. “But the media environment has been especially vulnerable, unstable, and unpredictable the past week.”

For updates on the Thai situation, you can check out the SEAPA blog. Below is SEAPA’s column:

Litmus test for Thailand’s ruling military council: Leave the press alone

By ROBY ALAMPAY
Special to The Nation

BANGKOK — After weeks of rumours, it was not soldiers in the streets that signalled to Thais that a coup was finally under way. The uniform playing of royalist songs over all the country’s TV and radio networks is what had the people sending text messages to each other and logging on to MSN. Even when CNN broke images of tanks rolling into Bangkok, without official confirmation CNN could only speculate as to what was probable. But it was the sudden interruption of those images and the blacking out of all news channels on cable that gave Thailand the real news.

Thais have seen coups before, and they’ve learned to read the signs. The media, in particular, has always been a reliable indicator of change in the air.

The very relationship that Thaksin had with the Thai press — one of the freest and most vibrant in Asia — had been held as the most concrete proof that the man was an enemy of democracy.

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September 24, 2006 Posted by | Free Expression in Asia | 3 Comments

Media, free expression under threat in wake of coup — SEAPA

September 21, 2006
Military asserts rules for Thai media following coup, silences dissenting voices, arrests demonstrators

Two days into the peaceful military takeover in Thailand, freedom of expression and the media is under threat as the interim Administrative Reform Council moves to isolate deposed caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and clamps down on expressions against the coup.

Foreign and local journalists still enjoy unrestricted movement, and the Internet seems to be left untouched by the military. However, local English broadsheet “The Nation” reports that the Council on 20 September empowered the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology to censor reports that are deemed conflicting to its interests.

The same day, international satellite-transmitted news services CNN and BBC were censored when the news programme featured background information on Thaksin. The screen went black before resuming, presumably after the Thaksin feature was finished.

On 21 September, an interview with the Council on a local television channel was cut short when reporters asked about Thaksin.

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September 21, 2006 Posted by | Free Expression in Asia | 1 Comment

Merdeka Day thoughts on media freedom

KUALA Lumpur — Malaysians celebrated Merdeka Day yesterday marking 49 years of the country’s independence from British colonial rule amid brewing racial and religious tensions that threaten the already fragile unity of Malaysia’s multi-racial society.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi acknowledged the situation in his independence day message as he appealed for unity, respect and cooperation among the country’s ethnic groups of Malays, Chinese and Indians, stressing that the strength of Malaysians lies in maintaining their solidarity.

But beyond race-based political problems, some consider issues pertaining to the rights of contemporary Malaysians, particularly freedoms of speech and expression, to be as serious and paramount, and hence deserve reflecting on in light of Merdeka Day.

Youth leaders like Lee Khai Loon, convenor of Youth for Change (Y4C), for instance, rue the divide-and-rule system the country inherited from the British that remains deeply rooted in Malaysian society. “Independence should not only mean the sovereignty of the country, but how the people live. Are they living in dignity and free from fear? Are they free from control by the authority?” he asks.

Steven Gan, founder and editor-in-chief of Malaysiakini, the country’s acknowledged independent online news site, says that Malaysians, rather than focusing on things that divide them, should instead find common aspirations in democracy, press freedom, and human rights.

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September 1, 2006 Posted by | Free Expression in Asia | Leave a comment