Thai military junta tightens grip on media, issues gag order

Originally published at Siam Voices on July 22, 2014 Thailand's military government has further tightened its grip on the country's media by banning criticism of the junta, threatening to shut down the offending media outlet and legal consequences.

The edict came at a time when probably not many were listening. On Friday night, shortly after the weekly, self-adulating TV address by army chief and coup leader General Prayuth Chan-Ocha, all television broadcasts were temporarily stopped again for another announcement by the "National Council for Peace and Order" (NCPO), as the military junta calls itself.

In announcement number 97 since the military coup nearly two months ago, the subject line was innocuously titled "Cooperating with the work of the National Council for Peace and Order and the distributing of news to the public".

However, its contents were yet again a reaffirmed open threat to the media and anyone else daring to criticize the military coup and the junta with is now in control of both the government and the narrative:

3. Operators and providers in the media of all types, both state and privately owned - including radio; television broadcasted via terrestrial, cable, digital or internet; newspapers, journals or other publications; including all types of electronic media including social media - are obliged to distribute the information as presented by the NCPO. In this regard, a person should cease presenting information in the following:

(1) False or defamatory information or that creates hatred towards the monarchy, the heir, and all royals.

(2) Information that could harm national security, including the libel of others.

(3) Criticism of the work of the NCPO, its officials and associated persons.

(4) Secret recordings - audio, image and video - of the secret work done by government agencies.

(5) Information that causes confusion, that incites or provokes conflict or divisions in the Kingdom.

- Taken from: "ประกาศคณะรักษาความสงบแห่งชาติ - ฉบับที่ 97/2557", National Council for Peace and Order, July 18, 2014 - Translated by author

Furthermore, the soliciting of resistance against the NCPO and anything else that could "lead to panic" in the population will not be tolerated.

Failure to comply with these points could result in an effective shutdown of the offending news outlet by soldiers, provincial governors or city and provincial police chiefs. This could be followed by legal prosecution that could end up in front of a military court since Thailand is still under martial law, invoked two days before the coup.

The junta has repeatedly already made clear that it will not tolerate dissent - while at the same time Gen. Prayuth has invited the public to voice their disagreements in a civil manner during his weekly addresses. Friday's edict is as broadly worded as previous ones when it comes to defining what actually does constitute as criticism, as defamation, as a threat to national security, etc.

There's also another problem with the edict:

Thai Journalists Association chairman Pradit Ruangdit said the junta's order (...) may allow authorities to abuse their power in suspending the broadcast or publication violating the order.

"It is not clear if there will be any warnings, any steps or any approaches in determining the offense," Pradit said in a statement. "If there is an abuse of power and there is no check and balance process, it is more likely that this will create a bad impact."

He said the Thai Journalists Association would call a meeting next week with media executives and professionals to discuss and find a solution to the problem.

-"Thai Junta's Gag on Media Raises Alarm, Criticism", Associated Press, July 19, 2014

Not only has the edict effectively banned criticism media criticism of the NCPO, but also interviews with academics and former civil servants who could "give opinions in a manner that can inflict or worsen the conflict, distort information, create confusion in the society or lead to the use of violence".

This apparent gag order by the junta is not only limited to the mainstream media and its journalists and reporters. NCPO spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvaree emphasized that the junta is not only seeking "cooperation" from the media, but from all individuals - effectively pointing the finger at all Thai social media users, who have been facing heightened measures by the junta to block or otherwise restrict access online.

The military junta has already set up media watchdogs to monitor unfavorable coverage and debate in print, on air and online, a clear indication that it has a very clear idea how the public political discourse sohould be shaped, but - given its blanket gag order - not so much when it comes to identifying who they're actually up against.

The only aspect in the announcement that was more comprehensible compared to the previous ones is the open contempt of anything that does not fit the junta's narrative that is being discussed in public.