IFJ Fears For Freedom Of Expression In Thailand In Days Following Military Coup

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has expressed fears for a free and independent media after reports of a military clamp down on dissenting voices and censorship of news broadcasts in the days after the September 20 coup.

According to local reports, although journalists are still able to move freely, and the Internet seems to be unaffected, the Administrative Reform Committee (the coup leaders) have announced their power to block any information that might “undermine the reform for democracy”.

“Censorship is censorship however it is described, and a truly democratic society cannot exist when full and unfettered access to information is curtailed by those in power,” IFJ President Christopher Warren said.

According to news reports, media executives were called to a meeting on September 21 and asked to stop broadcasting messages from viewers and "other expressions of public opinion".

The BBC and CNN were reportedly taken off the air immediately after the coup, and since being back on air have been subject to censorship.

BBC News reports that its broadcast about the Thai prime minister arriving in London after flying from the United Nations in New York, was cut off and a caption appeared saying “programming will resume shortly” as a montage of Western movie stars was screened until the news item was over.

According to the BBC, footage of coup leaders appears to be uncensored however anything involving Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra is blocked.

Similar reports of censorship have been common, while local news organisations also report that armed guards have been positioned outside their offices since the coup.

The IFJ, the organisation representing more than 500,000 journalists in over 115 countries, calls on the Administrative Reform Committee to immediately put an end to the censorship and provide the Thai people with full access to all information and news reports.

There are also reports the Administrative Reform Council has banned political gatherings of five or more people, with the penalty for defiance a jail term or large fine.

The IFJ’s Nepal affiliate, the Federation of Nepalese Journalists (FNJ), who have recently experienced the disastrous impact on a free media and journalist safety following a coup in Nepal in February 2005, have expressed solidarity with their Thai colleagues and called for the immediate restoration of press freedom in Thailand.

“Coup d'etat are never the answer and almost always lead to a crackdown on freedom of expression, most recently evidenced in Nepal,” Warren said.

“The IFJ is deeply concerned that in the coming days we will see a further retreat from a free and open society in Thailand and we urge the coup leaders to act immediately to ensure that the Thai people’s right to freedom of expression is respected,” he said.

For more information please contact IFJ Asia Pacific +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries