BANGKOK — A team of military officers will monitor all news coverage in Thailand and promptly contact journalists if they encounter "false information" in their reporting, a leading member of Thailand’s military junta said today.
Gen. Udomdet Sittabutr, secretary general of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), was speaking at a meeting with over 40 editors and executives from Thai media agencies at the Army Club on Viphavadee Road in Bangkok today.
According to an assistant editor of Khaosod newspaper who attended the meeting, Gen. Udomdet said the media will not have to send their news to the military for review, but that a military panel will closely monitor all published content to look for "false information" and rumours that inaccurately portray the NCPO and its missions.
If the military encounters such content, officers will directly contact editors to correct the information, said Khaosod editor Wichayasak Suwannathat.
'Media monitoring is not restriction'
Today’s meeting at the Army Club followed the NCPO’s announcement that it will form five special committees to monitor national and international news coverage across different types of media.
According to the plan, TV and radio stations will be monitored by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC), print media by the Special Branch Police, online media by the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), and foreign media by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The NCPO said the measure is needed to suppress "false information" and news reports that insult the monarchy.
At today's meeting, Gen. Udomdet insisted that the monitoring panels do not intend to restrict freedom of the press, but are simply a means to "help the media determine correct information," according to Mr. Wichayasak.
Some editors at the meeting asked Gen. Udomdet about reports of military officers being sent to a newsrooms to stop coverage about an anti-coup organisation recently set up in exile by two fugitive politicians.
Gen Udomdet replied that the media is not forbidden to report about the organisation, called the Free Thais, but said editors should exercise their judgment concerning whether reporting about the group will cause further conflicts in society.
"If it does, then the media should not report it," Mr. Wichayasak recalled Gen. Udomdet as saying.
Gen. Udomdet said the monitoring will last for the duration of the NCPO’s “national reconciliation” phase. According to the NCPO's roadmap, the junta will oversee several months devoted to national reconciliation, followed by a year of constitutional reforms, after which an election will be held if "conditions are stable."
Mr. Wichayasak said the military junta's heightened media monitoring will not affect the impartiality of Khaosod newspaper.
"We will continue to report the news based on facts," Mr. Wichayasak said, although he added that the newspaper will refrain from reporting details about certain issues, such as the movements of the anti-coup Free Thai organisation.
Journalists demand more clarity
The Thai Journalist Association (TJA) submitted an open letter to the NCPO today, calling for more clarity about the junta's measures to root out "false information" from media reports.
The letter expresses TJA's deep concern over military officers' intrusion into the newsrooms of Kom Chad Luek newspaper and Nation TV on 25 June to stop coverage about the Free Thai organisation.
The letter also urges the NCPO's media committees to define their scope of power in clearer terms.
Since staging the coup against the elected government on 22 May, the NCPO has banned public protests against the regime, detained scores of activists, and censored the media — mostly by warning them not to publish any criticism about the NCPO or its missions.
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