(New York) – The Thailand media regulator’s decision to suspend a television station’s broadcasts for seven days is blatant censorship that further undermines media freedoms and reinforces military dictatorship, Human Rights Watch said today.
On March 27, 2017, Lt. Gen. Peerapong Manakit of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) announced the suspension of Voice TV, a private station known for its criticism of military rule. The suspension was based on complaints filed by the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) military junta accusing the station of broadcasting inaccurate and biased stories that threaten national security.
“Punishing Voice TV for the content of its broadcasts is just the Thai junta’s latest attempt to control Thailand’s once vibrant media and bully them into becoming a mouthpiece for military rule,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The junta is trying to stop the media from reporting human rights violations, investigating official misconduct, and uncovering government abuse of power.”
The junta’s punishment of Voice TV relates to stories aired in mid-March that contradicted and criticized information provided by military authorities about the raid on Dhammakaya Temple, the army’s killing of a teenage ethnic Lahu activist, the arrest of anti-government groups for allegedly possessing weapons and plotting to assassinate the prime minister and other cabinet members, and the controversial construction of a casino on the Thai-Cambodian border.
Immediately after the May 2014 coup, the junta forced off the air satellite and digital TV channels and community radio stations associated with all political factions. Some, including Voice TV, were later allowed to resume broadcasting provided they signed a memorandum of understanding with the junta compelling the broadcaster not to make critical comments about the junta or the situation in Thailand.
However, Voice TV has maintained its policy of independent media reporting despite being punished repeatedly by authorities who dislike the station continuing to report news critical of the junta. In 2016 alone, military censors suspended Voice TV programs more than 10 times over its reporting.
After lifting martial law in March 2015, the junta has maintained media censorship by using the provisions of orders and announcements issued under section 44 of the interim constitution.
NCPO Announcement 97/2014 bans “criticism of the work of the NCPO” and the dissemination of “information that could harm national security, cause confusion, or incite conflict or divisions in the country.” This announcement also compels all news outlets to distribute the information issued by the junta.
NCPO Announcement 103/2014 further prohibits the propagation of news or the distribution of any publication containing information that the authorities consider “intentionally distorted to cause public misunderstanding that affects national security or public order.” In this regard, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has become a censorship tool for the junta, with broad and unaccountable powers to suspend the broadcast of TV and radio programs or take a station off the air because of content that the authorities consider distorted, divisive, or a threat to national security.
During the review of Thailand’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on March 13 and 14, the United Nations Human Rights Committee strongly criticized the government of Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha for its repression of basic liberties, including freedom of expression and media freedom.
“The junta should accept the recommendations of the United Nations and end censorship,” Adams said. “It should immediately make a commitment to uphold media freedom by lifting Voice TV’s seven-day ban and ending further attempts to silence this and other outspoken media outlets.”