Junta Relaxes Ban On Free Press, Allows 'Honest' Criticism

Pradith Ruengdith, the director of the Thai Journalist Association (TJA), delivered a joint statement to Gen. Surasak Kanchanarat, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defence, representing the views of the TJA, the Thai Broadcast Journalist Association, the National Council of Press in Thailand, and the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand, 21 July 2014.

BANGKOK — Following a complaint by Thai press associations, the military junta has modified the sweeping ban on freedom of the press it imposed last week.

Last Friday the ruling National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) issued an announcement reminding the media of a ban on all “criticism of operations of the National Council for Peace and Order, its officials, or any related individual.” Media agencies who violate the ban will be shut down and prosecuted, the announcement warned.

But the junta issued a fresh announcement last night, slightly amending the gag order, after four media associations urged the military to repeal the ban.

According to Announcement 103/2557, the ban will now only apply to "criticism of the NCPO's operations that have the dishonest intention to damage the credibility of the NCPO with false information."

The NCPO also scaled down its punishment for violators; instead of facing an immediate shutdown, erring media agencies will undergo an internal "ethics inquiry" conducted by their own press associations.

Pradith Ruengdith, the director of the Thai Journalist Association (TJA), delivered a joint statement yesterday to Gen. Surasak Kanchanarat, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Defence, representing the views of the TJA, the Thai Broadcast Journalist Association, the National Council of Press in Thailand, and the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand.

The statement reportedly asked the junta to either modify its ban on media coverage or repeal it altogether.

Despite the amendment, the NCPO still retains considerable restriction on freedom of expression in Thailand. The media remains prohibited from publishing news that could “cause confusion, incite disputes, or lead to disunity in the Kingdom.”

“Determining what information falls within these prohibited categories is solely within the discretion of the NCPO,” New York-based Human Rights Watch noted in a press release published yesterday.

As a result, many media agencies practice self-censorship to avoid punishment by the NCPO. 

The rights organization urged the junta to immediately revoke martial law, end censorship, and restore democratic rule. 

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