Muzzling Media in Coup-Ed up Thailand

In his column Media Mantras, Annurag Batra looks at Thailand where despite the issuance of a military order to clamp down on all media organizations, the media is still alive and cautions that if the sanctions of 2007 return, then social media could be targeted 

03 Jun, 2014 by admin

Coup is always a black word in politics of this world. When the military clamped martial law, and later declared a coup, in Thailand, for many Indians the news was met with much concern as it involved one of their favourite destinations in Southeast Asia. What added to their worries was the issuance of Order No. 9, empowering the military to clamp down on all media organizations in the country.


According to a new report, at least 14 “partisan TV networks — both pro- and anti-government stations — have shut down and nearly 3,000 unlicensed community radio stations across Thailand have been ordered to close. Newspapers have been warned not to publish articles that could incite unrest. The army says violators will be prosecuted, but so far, none have.” If that was not all, reported that the Thai military has “pushed for the broad censorship”, including social media, websites with “inappropriate content” and some books.


The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) stated that of the 12 martial-law edicts from Thailand’s Peace and Order Maintaining Command (POMC), nearly 50% target “media and free expression.” SEAPA says that Order No. 9 hits press freedom the most, as it imposes a ban on print and broadcast media “from carrying interviews with former government officials, academics and civil society who might ‘confuse society or provoke violence’ or cause opposition to martial law’.” Press censorship is not new for Thailand. In fact the coup seems “old fashioned” as per The Economist.


The Economist predicts that the coup architects are bound to fail “both in achieving their own objectives, which are still fuzzy, and in charting a course for the country to wend its way out of economic stagnation and social failure. The hope that a democratic majority of the Thai people will get to choose their own government any time soon now looks ludicrous.”


For experts in world affairs, Thailand is an ungovernable entity most of the time. Given this, even the new rules that the junta has clamped are likely to fall on deaf ears and it would be business as usual. “People are even more unlikely to put up with the new rules, which are woefully lacking in legitimacy. Some have responded to the orders with derision,” says The Economist. Pavin Chachavalpongpun, an academic who is on the army’s summon list, said that he plans to send his pet Chihuahua to report to the junta in his stead.


Though the broadcast media seems disrupted, Thailand’s masses seem busy with a media of a virtual kind. TechInAsia reported that recent developments have “compelled the Thais to take to the Internet for news and entertainment. By the second day, Dtac, Thailand’s second largest mobile company has revealed that mobile data usage was already 25% higher than usual”.


But then, that may take care of the concerns only partly. Even as most radio and television channels resumed their normal (read controlled) programming a few days after the coup, the POMC warned Internet users not to post anything that can be considered critical or opposing of the current military government. However, the warning was not heeded by all. Journalist Pravit Rojanaphruk (@PravitR) – who is on the media summon list -- tweeted, “How can the shutting of ears, eyes & mouths of Thais by guns, tanks & threat of detention bring about democracy & unity?” He further tweeted: “The more they exercise their illegitimate power the more illegitimate they become.”


Despite this, the architects of the coup must take into consideration that a coup, at best, has an all-round boomerang effect. Immediately after the army takeover was declared and turmoil ensued in the market, Thai stocks retreated, falling by .06% within days. Bloomberg reported how the investors were jittery, “holding back any prospect of placing their hard-earned capital there until the smoke clears”. The corporate world depends a lot on the media that tells them about the market

environment, their performance and the real score. writes in its editorial: “Business and trade rely heavily on media reports to better assess the economic and investment landscape of a country. With a gagged media, it would be touch-and-go for Thailand in the next few months. How the Thai military would fix that aspect of the country’s economic thrust is anybody’s guess.”


Further, the new coup is in a society which has considerably changed and is no more just a traditional agricultural state. Now, Thailand is a progressive nation with citizens who understand their rights, aspire for roles in the world stage and have their own social status. According to The Economist, “social changes that took hundreds of years to emerge in European history have taken just half a century in Thailand.


That is less time than the average age of the generals who are trying to revive for Thailand a brand of authoritarianism that was derided as being reserved for the kingdom’s poor neighbours, Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar”. Although there are very many theories on what led to the current situation, the fact remains that future solutions within Thailand have to be built around models where the media is left to do what it does best -- inform.


Although at the moment media seems alive in Thailand, despite Order No. 9, as – at least – the Internet is by far unaffected. Google, YouTube and Yahoo are still accessible in Thailand, while messaging apps like WhatsApp and Line are still on. But will that continue all through the junta regime? Only the coming days will reveal. But should the sanctions of 2007 return, and social media too is target by POMC, just like print and broadcast media, information blackout will further worsen the situation and give rise to another long drawn strife.



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