The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is dismayed to hear that Google, search engine and owner of video-sharing website YouTube, has cut a censorship deal with the Thailand government.
Thailand this week lifted its five-month ban on YouTube after Google installed filters to block Thais from accessing any videos deemed “offensive” to the monarchy. The deal echoes Google and Microsoft censorship deals in China.
IFJ Asia-Pacific Director Jacqueline Park said the move sets a dangerous precedent, which could have global implications for freedom of expression.
“There is a clear potential for abuse of people’s right to information, which seems much more likely now Google has demonstrated its willingness to collude with governments to effectively censor information,” Park said.
“Freedom of expression has already been curtailed in Thailand, and electronic media looked to be improving the level of discussion of the country’s public life – but with the new cyber crimes laws, Thais can now face jail for visiting websites deemed inappropriate,” Park said.
Under Thailand’s lese-majeste laws, the government has kept a tight control over how the monarchy, and particularly King Bhumibol Adulyadej, is portrayed in the media.
But authorities are struggling to retain control over the internet and electronic media – hence the introduction of the recent Computer Crime Act, which allows police to seize the computers of anyone suspected of accessing or creating “insulting or pornographic” content.
Recently, a Thai man was reportedly detained under the new Act, after making offensive comments about the monarchy in internet chat rooms.
But Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Minister Sitthichai Pookaiyaudum has denied any knowledge of the arrests, originally reported in the Financial Times on the weekend.
“I don’t know about it. And if someone were arrested under the law, I would not be informed,” Sitthichai said.
The IFJ is also concerned that Thailand’s military-installed government is doling out punishments far too severe for the crime, with its outmoded lese-majeste and criminal defamation laws.
One victim of these laws is anti-coup activist, social worker and webmaster Sombat Bun-ngam-anong – who is currently serving out a 12-day detention order for alleged defamation. Mr Bun-ngam-anong has declined to post a bail sum of 200,000 Thai baht.
“The laws that deem defamation a criminal offence are archaic and draconian,” Park said.
“The IFJ urges the Thai government to use this opportunity to create a free media environment in Thailand and decriminalise defamation.”
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries