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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

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