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“Thais That Bind?” Human Freedom And The Media …

  • July 1st, 2012
  • Posted by EUEditor

bangkok-stalls.jpgKeeping a guard on freedom is an task that Europe takes on , and takes seriously in all areas of cooperation with the outside world – not least when it comes to freedom of speech, and of the news media.

Stephanie Kay found in South-East Asia, blind-spots on the media front.


bangkok-monk.jpgPutting focus this week on Thailand as an entreport to the South-East Asian region showed up a very mixed picture on the human rights front including the question of freedom and quality of the media.

The news media in Thailand have no formal pre-censorship impeding their independence, but are still being criticised by a range of commentators and investigators, as being of poorer quality, when stood up against a liberal “Western” standard.

The most popular media form is television, and the most highly rated networks are government owned; currently two channels being  government operated, and three controlled by the armed forces – a strong political element in that country.

Large, private conglomerates own a big share in Thai media, and much of the output is seen as biased, swayed by vested interests.

Broad studies of media structures and standards, from universities, used by government, or non-government agencies, and taking in the Thailand situation, had identified a lack of fact checking, independence of reporters, and fairness in the reportage.

Thailand has a new station, “Innovation,” a public broadcaster modelling itself on Britain’s BBC, which, though receiving praise for quality of performance, is yet to penetrate to big audiences.

As for content generally, Thai media reporting has a strong focus on economic and political stories, though social, environment and development stories appear less often.


Against this scenario, which can seem compromised, European interests are actively encouraging change, and development of performance.

bangkok-eu.jpgNot that they can expect great influence at any level: audience data suggests that Thais see the countries of the European Union, for instance, as entirely separate states, whose business with them is mostly to do with news about trade and finance.

Europe tries, across the range of media and rights activities.

It will act, for instance sending election monitoring teams to places where there has been crisis, or starting bilateral talks with governments, to try and help individuals in trouble.

Most recently in the case of Thailand, a person accused of lese majeste, illegal ridiculing or criticism of royalty; and remanded in custody for extended periods, received intense international support.

Such activities claim a healthy sector of the regional EU budget of €10-million ($A12.8-million;, 30.6.12) in financial cooperation, or assistance, where the human rights category shares space with support for education, border management, or capacity building with official statistics.


The emerging and ever-increasing field of online news has brought with it a fresh set of problems.

Government monitoring of the Internet is far from the Chinese practice of universal filtering, substitution and formal controls; but past measures have included banning websites, in response to dobbing-in by members of the public, encouraged to do it by the state authorities.

“Not entirely un-Chinese” is the most common term used for official pressure on bloggers and other publishers; monitoring for indecency or abuse that can have diversified uses.

Though not a “Great Fire Wall,” it appears to be diligent enough surveillance, to hamper efforts to make up for a deficiency of independent opinion pieces and editorial commentary in major publications.

Newspapers in Thailand do have wide circulation, both town and country.

Radio, like television, is owned by a combination of government, military agencies, and large commercial companies.

Where independent stations have appeared, they are watched closely and some have been shut down, through being deemed offensive. In several cases “independents” have obtained their licenses from the larger owners and operate under their requirements.


The international monitoring organisation, Reporters Without Borders, classifies Thailand as an ‘enemy of the Internet’ and is highly critical of current litigation by the government, and censorship practices on line.

It has criticised Thailand for being the first country to express satisfaction with Twitter’s new rules, making it legal to block content nation-wide.

“The Minister for Information and Technology declared he would work with Twitter to make certain Tweets disseminated in Thailand comply with local law,” said the Reporters Without Borders website, 12.3.12.

The organisation has also warned Twitter executives to prepare for many requests for Tweets to be removed and described the state record of internet freedom as “gloomy” – though it did concede the country’s media were relatively free in Thailand, leaving out issues to do with monarchy.

Censorship, it says, may “further divide the population and erode national cohesion.”

While the global rise of internet based news is providing new challenges, many of the issues to do with controls and monitoring, have been under debate in Thailand for many years.


Reporters Without Borders, Paris, home,, 42054.html, (30.6.12).