• Saturday, September 20, 2014

Press fearful after Thai coup

BBC Online
Activists protest against the imposition of martial law to limit freedom of expression in northern Chiang Mai Province. Photo taken from prachatai.com
Activists protest against the imposition of martial law to limit freedom of expression in northern Chiang Mai Province. Photo taken from prachatai.com

The day after the military takeover in Thailand, television and radio remain blacked out and under military control.

Instead, viewers and listeners are being fed a diet of traditional music interspersed with orders and announcements from the country's new military rulers.

Each of the announcements - around 20 so far on the first day of military rule - is read out several times over both television and radio.

Other forms of communication, such as print media, the internet, landline and mobile phones have not been affected so far, although all media have been requested to refrain from criticism of the military authorities.

Press reaction

With Thai newspapers still free to publish, the Bangkok Post criticises the coup directly, saying that it is "not the solution" to the country's problems.

"The rationale is short-sighted," the paper's editorial says, adding that Army Chief General Prayuth Chan-Ocha "may have good intentions at heart but seizing administrative power by force will only cause the situation to deteriorate further".

Fearing that the coup may provoke damaging international sanctions and further provoke domestic tensions, the paper concludes: "The sad thing is it's the very act of a military takeover that is likely to stir up stiff resistance, provoke acts of violence and possibly cause more loss of life. This coup is not the solution."

The English-language version of Prachatai daily website carries a banner over the masthead reading "Journalism is not a crime", and quotes academic Puanthong Pawakapan as saying people - particularly the anti-establishment red shirts - may rise up against the military. The coup, she says, will lead to deeper conflict and violence.

"The military only have weapons, but weapons cannot win over the people's hearts and change the people's thoughts... More people will be arrested in order to create a climate of fear. However, the fear of the people is limited. In the end, we should not underestimate the pride of the people."

Khaosod reports that border crossings with Laos are closed "to prevent Redshirt activists from leaving the country".

Like Prachatai, it says that 80 mainly student activists rallied on Thursday against the coup and shows photos of the demo, which reached Bangkok's Democracy Monument before being turned back.

'Big, baffled family'

Bangkok's The Nation newspaper fears that the military takeover might result in unwelcome attention from the global community.

"In our complex political scene, it is already extremely difficult to separate the facts from the fictions, the good from evil, the right from wrong. We are one big baffled family, and uninformed, prejudiced overbearing interference from outside can only make the confusion worse", Pornpimol Kanchanalak said in an opinion piece published by the newspaper.

The Chiang Mai City News paper focuses on the practical implications of the coup.

Noting that "rumours are flying and new rules are piling up", it says Friday marks the start of "an unexpected long weekend for students and teachers, as military authorities have cancelled classes at all learning facilities".

The paper also reports "unprecedented traffic jams" in the northern city as a result of public transport being shut down during curfew hours.

Bloggers react

Influential Thai political bloggers grapple with the reasoning behind the military takeover. Hamburg-based writer Saksith Saiyasombut believes that the military wants to prevent a comeback by former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.

"From the military perspective, the coup is meant to prove to politicians that Thaksin and his money are finished. This is also the reason no elections can be held anytime soon - elections would show Thaksin can return," a post on the 2Bangkok blog said.

Exiled blogger Giles Ji Ungpakorn claimed the military was "turning the clock back to the stone age".

"The military are the main obstacle to democracy, freedom and social justice in Thailand..." a post on the Uglytruth-Thailand says. "They also want any elected governments, after elections in the distant future, to be powerless and under the control of unelected forces."

Other bloggers offered analysis of the military group's orders and directives.

"Bangkok Pundit", writing on the AsianCorrespondent.com blog notes that some of the orders were so broad as to be difficult to police. "Now, the media can only talk to certain commentators on certain subjects…We are still waiting to see what the print media will do and Thai Public Broadcasting Service..."

On Twitter, photos are circulating of individuals and small groups on the streets of Bangkok and Chiang Mai holding aloft anti-coup signs. Twitter users have also been sharing tips on how to circumvent a possible crackdown on social media.

Published: 4:50 pm Friday, May 23, 2014

Last modified: 10:02 pm Friday, May 23, 2014

TAGS: coup Thailand Twitter social media military rulers Pracatai blogger Thai Public Broadcasting Service

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