Friday, August 27, 2010
Press freedom deteriorating in Thailand
Press freedom in Thailand, especially for broadcast media such as community radio stations and Web boards, has "palpably deteriorated" over the past six years, lamented Roby Alampay, outgoing executive director of the Southeast Asean Press Alliance (Seapa)
"The Internet over the past six years has played a crucial role in allowing people to debate and air their views," Alampay said, adding that things had become "more personal" when users began facing censorship, state monitoring and the threat of prosecution over content in their e-mails or social networking sites.
"Print media fortunately remain very vibrant and free," he added.
Alampay, who has completed his term at Bangkok-based Seapa and leaves Bangkok for Manila today, told The Nation that Thais have to be mindful about the growing legal constraints that curb freedom of press and expression.
Six years ago, Thaksin Shinawatra was "no friend of the media", but was "put in check" by the courts, Alampay said. Now, after political and military upheaval, there is Abhisit Vejjajiva.
"You have a prime minister who benefited from political and military upheavals, and he says all the right things about press freedom, but in the background, there's a lot of trouble," he said.
For example, he said, the current Computer Crime Act was "dangerous" because the authorities were exploiting its harsh penalties and weaknesses. Then there's the spate of arrests under the lese majeste law.
"I'm not just blaming Abhisit, because other people have also been exploiting the law and making it more confusing," he said.
When Abhisit first came to power, he told society "not to worry about the law", but Alampay said things have turned out to be "quite disappointing and unfortunately got worse" under the current administration.
However, Alampay stopped short of telling Thailand what to do. "It's not my place," he said.
On a positive note, he said the public TPBS television station was a model for the rest of the region to learn that free media still had strong roots in Thailand.
On the regional level, Alampay said Asean had adopted a human-rights charter and set up an inter-governmental human-rights commission, which at least on paper endorses free expression. Indonesia has become a beacon of hope with a very free press and successful transition, while Burma is still at the very bottom.
Alampay said he was worried about Singapore and its negative influence on press freedom.
The island state, he said, relied on "co-opting as well as intimidating" tactics to stifle press freedom, "especially when it comes to local coverage".
"There is practically no independence in Singapore media. The culture of self-censorship is most pervasive there," he said, adding that the republic and China were being "touted" as alternative models for freedom of expression in Asean - a trend he described as "disturbing". The Nation, Bangkok