Thailand’s defence minister fears ‘too much press freedom’
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Thailand’s defence minister fears ‘too much press freedom’

We have written numerous times about the armed forces’ open disdain for the press. Who can forget army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha’s very frequent furious outbursts against the press, most recently against ThaiPBS for the controversial monarchy debate where he essentially told all critics of the lèse majesté law to leave the country.

Now in Friday’s Bangkok Post, Thailand’s defence minister vents his problems with the media:

Defence Minister Sukumpol Suwanatat says he is worried about the amount of freedom which the media enjoys to report on security issues. He will discuss press freedoms with top military officials and how the media reports on contentious issues.

The way they report certain issues can stir unrest which gives cause for concern, he said. The minister was speaking after a meeting of the Defence Council yesterday.

The media currently enjoys a lot of freedom when presenting their news reports and that is something that must be considered by the military, ACM Sukumpol said. ACM Sukumpol said he was worried about media reports on sensitive issues.

The minister said foreign media outlets, including CNN, which is based in the US, rarely attack the US government.

Sukumpol frets over too much press liberty“, Bangkok Post, March 29, 2013

Okay, many points to pick apart here…

It is certainly nothing new or unique to Thailand that press freedom clashes with the interests of the military and security issues. In the post-9/11 world, many countries were and still are far too willing to sacrifice civil liberties for “national security”, making it possible for certain sectors of the authorities and government to evade public scrutiny.

That is the same case here in Thailand, where the military always plays a crucial role in the power struggle as an independent reactionary force that would act against a civilian and elected government whenever it sees fit. Only the current ‘truce’ between the Yingluck government and the armed forces is preventing that from happening now, since the lines between the two of them are clearly drawn.

Despite being a military man in a civilian government, Air Chief Marshall Sukumpol’s remarks are unsurprising and yet revealing as to how the military still sees itself:  a pillar of the Kingdom that is not to be questioned or criticized, as the recent show of force by 50 army officers at the office of ASTV/Manager for critical (below-the-belt) remarks proves.

The Thai military is reluctant to engage on form of outside scrutiny and many cases – such as the purchase of a fraudulent bomb-sniffing device, its role during the bloody crackdown of the 2010 red shirt protests or just recently the alleged shooting that killed 20 Rohingya refugees – are poorly investigated (and mostly by their own peers), if at all.

The armed forces have shown once again with Sukumpol’s remarks that they wish to take many freedoms for themselves but do not want others to have certain liberties.

And one more thing about foreign media outlets: has he ever watched foreign TV news, especially in the US with extreme examples like MSNBC or Fox News?

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About the author:
Saksith Saiyasombut is a Thai blogger and freelance foreign correspondent based in Bangkok, Thailand. He writes about Thai politics and current affairs since 2010 and also reports for international news media such as Channel NewsAsia. You can follow him on Twitter @Saksith and read his full bio on about.me/saksith.