Saturday, August 28, 2010
PHUKET: Press freedom in Thailand, especially for broadcast media such as community radio stations and Web boards, has “palpably deteriorated” over the past six years, says Roby Alampay, outgoing executive director of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa).
“The Internet over the past six years has played a crucial role in allowing people to debate and air their views,” Alampay said, adding that things had become “more personal” when users began facing censorship, state monitoring, and the threat of prosecution over content in their e-mails or social networking sites.
“Print media fortunately remain very vibrant and free,” he added.
Alampay, who has completed his term at Bangkok-based Seapa and leaves for Manila today, told The Nation that Thais have to be mindful about the growing legal constraints that curb media freedom and expression.
Six years ago, Thaksin Shinawatra was “no friend of the media”, but was “put in check” by the courts, Alampay said. Now, after political and military upheaval, there is Abhisit Vejjajiva.
“You have a prime minister who benefited from political and military upheavals, and he says all the right things about press freedom, but in the background, there’s a lot of trouble,” he said.
For example, he said, the current Computer Crime Act was “dangerous” because the authorities were exploiting its harsh penalties and weaknesses.
“I’m not just blaming Abhisit, because other people have also been exploiting the law and making it more confusing,” he said.
When Abhisit first came to power, he told society “not to worry about the law”, but Alampay said things have turned out to be “quite disappointing, and unfortunately got worse” under the current administration.
As reported in the Phuket Gazette three months ago, Poomjit Sirawongprasert, president of the Thai [Website] Hosting Service Providers Club, notes that, “Thailand is getting increasingly like China when it comes to Internet censorship.”
And Reporters Without Borders says that over the past few years more than 50,000 websites have been blocked.
Consequently, Thailand’s standing in the Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders plunged to 130 last year, from 65 in 2002.
With the emergency decree having been invoked in so many Thai provinces (but not Phuket) in April of this year, and with that decree still in force in several areas, further deterioration in media freedom is likely.
Bangkok and Phuket-based television and Web board operators surveyed by the Phuket Gazette predict that Thailand’s Freedom Index ranking will have plunged still further when the statistic for 2009 is announced next year.