Journalists detained as Thai military closes in on media

The International Federation of Journalists (IF) expresses growing concern over the treatment of local and international media in Thailand in the six days since martial law was imposed by the military and calls for the immediate release of media detained in recent days. Along with four media groups, the IFJ has called for the military to respect the role of the media in Thailand and allow free passage of reporting.

On Sunday May 25, the senior reporter of The Nation, Pravit Rojanaphruk, was amongst the 100 prominent Thais summoned by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to attend the Royal Thai Army auditorium. The group have since been taken to and detained at undisclosed military locations.

Two days earlier, the editor of Same Sky magazine, Thanapol Eawsakul, was arrested following an anti-coup protest on Friday, May 23.

Today, the Press Council of Thailand, the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and the Thai Society of Professional Broadcasters jointly issued an open letter to the Peace and Order Maintaining Council (POMC) to review all orders related to the restriction of the media freedom issued since 22 May.

In the preceding the declaration of martial law on May 20, the IFJ condemned Thailand’s military leaders for demanding specific television networks off the air. The media outlets were told to stop broadcasting to “preserve peace and order”. MV 5, DNN, UDD, Asia Update, P&P 6, Channel 7, Blue Sky, FMTV, T News, and ASTV were amongst those taken off the air by the military order.

The list of media outlets restricted from reporting has continued to grow amid the crisis. Since the military took power, it has been reported to the IFJ that up to 100 websites have been blocked, 15 TV stations have been closed and numerous community radio stations have been taken off the air.

Six free-to-air TV stations were allowed to resume broadcasting on Saturday 24 but staff are under close supervision from army personnel and broadcast content is being censored from reporting or commentary that criticises the coup.

IFJ Asia Pacific acting director Jane Worthington said: “As it is such a crucial time of democratic change in Thailand, it is more important than ever that citizens have access to information. We are appalled that the military are using restrictions on the media as a weapon to stifle freedom of expression during this current period of martial law.”

“The IFJ calls on the military to either immediately release the journalists and dissidents it currently has in detainment. The IFJ also calls on authorities to immediately reconsider the restrictions on reporting for both local and international media.”

The open letter to the Peace and Order Maintaining Council released by the four Thai media groups follows:

1.   Urge the POMC to review the orders issued related to the works of media urgently to allow the media of all branches to resume their normal duty. POMC may assign the National Broadcasting and Telecom Commission (NBTC) to enforce existing laws to regulate radio and television broadcasts in order to guarantee a maximum benefit of people’s access to information. Seeking cooperation from the media of all branches to perform their duty constructively and responsibly is way better than resorting to using power to stifle the media and suspend the broadcasts of radios and television. POMC shall state its clear intent that it will support, not obstruct, the media’ works so as to allow them to exercise their freedom to report and express opinion in objective, truthful and comprehensive manner. The statement of intent will help build confidence among the people and gain acceptance in the international community, which is monitoring the current political development.

2.   Urge POMC to work with speed to put in place the new constitution which contains the articles that protect and recognize freedom of opinion of the people and media in line with the articles 45, 46, 47 of the 2007 constitution

3.   All media practitioners and media outlets and everyone in the industry must perform their duty in the interest of the nation, jointly help to bring the country out the crisis and space for constructive comments to allow the country’s comprehensive reform to take place in accordance with the social aspiration.  More importantly, they need to recognize the value of freedom with responsibility because the overkill restriction of media freedom imposed by POMC causes concerns among all media practitioners. Under this sensitive situation, all media outlets must exercise utmost discretion in their works, not be used by one side or the other and perform their duty strictly with responsibility and in regards to professional ethics. 

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0950 

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 131 countries 

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