This photo taken off the TV screen shows the blue screen with military crests that replaced all TV programming in Thailand last month. Pic: AP.

Thailand’s military junta has set up watchdogs to monitor all kinds of media for content that is deemed as “inciting hatred towards the monarchy” or providing “misinformation” that could potentially complicate the work of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), as the junta calls itself.

The committee is chaired by Pol Gen Adul Saengsingkaew, deputy NCPO chief for special affairs.  Its members comprise representatives of agencies including the Royal Thai Police Office, army, navy, air force, Foreign Ministry, Prime Minister’s Office and Public Relations Department.

The meeting agreed to set up four panels to “monitor” the media:

  • A panel to follow news on radio and television stations, led by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC);
  • A panel to monitor news in the print media, led by the Special Branch;
  • A panel to monitor news on the social media, headed by the permanent secretary for information and communication technology; and
  • A panel to monitor international news, led by the permanent secretary for foreign affairs.

Upon finding news items deemed detrimental to the NCPO and the royal institution, they are to send a daily and weekly report to Pol Gen Adul and the NCPO chief [army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha].

Media censorship panels formed“, Bangkok Post, June 25, 2014

“All agencies have a duty to the people and the various media to make them understand the work of the NCPO, while at the same time to clamp down on the spread of ‘information’ that could incite hatred towards the monarchy and also on misinformation,” Pol Gen Adul was quoted as saying by the Isara News Agency.

The set up of the panels and the large-scale cooperation between the military, government sectors and “independent” federal agencies is another sign of attempts to tighten the control over the narrative in the news and social media, which have been repeatedly warned by the junta not to broadcast content that “could negatively affect the peace-keeping work of the authorities”. There has been no clarification on what this would entail, exactly.

During the military coup of May 22, 2014 all TV stations were only broadcasting announcements by the military and several satellite TV stations (mostly associated with the political protest groups) were ordered to cease broadcasting and have remained off air since. Others, including foreign news channels, were gradually allowed back on air under the condition that they do not air shows debating the political situation.

The junta has also been trying to combat dissent online, especially on social media. Efforts are made (with the cooperation of Thai internet service providers) to block access to anti-coup and anti-monarchy content. Reportedly, at least 200 websites have been blocked and social media users have been warned not to spread “wrongful” information that may “incite unrest”.

Authorities have suggested creating a national online gateway in order to filter out undesirable website and are even considering a national social network that they’re in full control off. The junta has also reportedly resorted to gathering user information via phishing, fooling the unsuspecting user into installing an app on their social network.

In late May, a brief block of the social network Facebook sparked uproar online, while statements by the Ministry for Information and Telecommunication Technology (MICT) and the NCPO over whether or not the Facebook-block was ordered or it was an “technical glitch” contradicted each other. It emerged later through a the foreign parent company of a Thai telco company that there actually was an order to block Facebook, for which it got scolded by the Thai authorities.

The special emphasis by the junta on alleged anti-monarchy content is highlighted by the fact that since the military coup all cases that fall under the draconian lèse majesté law are now under the jurisdiction of a military court.

Manop Thiposot, a spokesman for the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), voiced his concern over the establishment of the junta’s media monitoring bodies. “Without clear guidelines it could negatively affect the public’s right to information and severely restrict the work of the media,” Manop said in an interview with the newspaper Krungthep Turakij. He called on the NCPO to clarify their working process and make it transparent.

Manop also reports that military officers have entered the newsroom of an unnamed newspaper and ordered reporters not to report about the newly established anti-coup movement in exile (founded by former politicians associated of the toppled government), while at the same time the junta publicly claims to be “unfazed” by it.

The junta is making it again clear that it will not tolerate dissent and criticism, all in the name of “avoiding misunderstanding” as it puts it. It aims to control of the post-coup narrative, but will struggle to get a handle on the multiple ways people are getting their information and communicating with each other, as well as the diversity of opinions those media outlets have spawned

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About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut blogs about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and works as freelance foreign TV correspondent. Read his full bio on about.me/saksith.