Press-freedom watchdog Index on Censorship has slammed what it calls the “hugely chilling effect” of the Thai military junta, after the International New York Times yesterday (1 December) was forced to print a virtually blank front page in the country.
The highly-respected paper had run a long piece on the Asian country’s declining economy on its front page around the world.
But in Thailand, the piece – entitled Thai Economy and Spirits Sagging – was removed by local printers, leaving a large blank square on the front page.
Index on Censorship said it was part of a pattern of both a media clampdown, and self-censorship by the local press, since the junta took power in a coup last year.
Chief Executive Jodie Ginsberg told EURACTIV, “Press freedom in Thailand has declined significantly since the 2014 coup.
“Under the country’s lèse-majesté laws, anyone who criticises the royal family faces jail sentences of up to 15 years, and – as the New York Times story shows – this has had a hugely chilling effect on the country’s media.”
A ‘blitzkrieg against freely-reported news’
According to another watchdog, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders, raids on media outlets and arrests of journalists since the May 2014 coup “constituted a blitzkrieg against freely-reported news and information.”
It ranks Thailand as 134th in its press freedom index, out of a total of 180 countries.
Tuesday’s International New York Times piece had reported that robbery and property crime had increased 60% in 2015, and that Thai households were amongst the most indebted in Asia.
Instead, within Thailand, the blank box where the story had been simply said, “The article in this space was removed by our printer in Thailand. The International New York Times and its editorial staff had no role in its removal.”
According to Agence-France Presse, the local printers, Eastern Printing PCL, had no comment on why the piece had been removed.
However, a previous piece by the NYT on the health of the octaganarian monarch, King Bhumibol, was also cut in September.
Under the junta of General Prayuth Chan-ocha, a British lawyer and activist, Andy Hall, who helped research a Finnish NGO report on labour abuses within the tinned fruit industry, is now facing up to seven years in jail.
The junta has promised a return to civilian government at some point in 2017, after a lengthy series of consultations on constitution-drafting.
In the wake of the 2014 coup, the EU suspended negotiations on a nearly-completed free trade agreement with Bangkok.
EURACTIV revealed last week that there was “proabably zero” chance of that FTA ever being ratified whilst the junta was in power.
In its report ‘Media hounded by junta since 2014 coup’, published last month, Reporters Without Borders accused Chan-ocha of “persecuting the media…imposing a reign of terror that has included interrogations, arbitrary arrests, a spate of prosecutions and barely-veiled threats.”