BANGKOK — Thai junta chairman Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha has continued his polemic against reporters, who he accused yesterday of being paid to criticize his government.
Since seizing power in a coup last year, Gen. Prayuth has developed a turbulent relationship with the press, who are often the target of his angry outbursts.
Although Gen. Prayuth has stopped short of directly censoring the media, he has organized meeting with news editors to ask for "cooperation" with his government, ordered reporters not to ask provocative questions, and issued laws that forbid the media from criticizing the junta with "insincere intentions."
After a lengthy rant against reporters yesterday, the junta leader aired more of his grievances with the media's coverage of his government today, going as far as accusing reporters of "intruding on his rights."
Below is an excerpt from the press conference at the Government House in Bangkok:
Prayuth: Today you attack me often. But I am not afraid of you. If you want to write, then write, but you have to be fair to me. I will ask people from around the country what they think about it. Many people don't like the way you write. Why do you have to write that way? You wrote that I pressure you and prevent you from speaking. Why do you think you have power over me? I'm always the one who is wrong. Of course! The media needs to have this special power! You can ask anything. It depends on the Prime Minister, if he wants to answer, he will answer. If he doesn't, then he won't. You have to ask yourself – don't ask me about some things that are your business. We are equal here. You don't have any privileges over me. We are the people, equally.
[Around 10 reporters start to leave the press conference.]
Prayuth: Why are you leaving? What's the matter with you?
[A reporter explains that they have to attend another briefing at the Government House about the economy.]
Prayuth: Next time ask for my permission first before you abruptly walk away like that. I thought you were angry and walked away from me. Whatever. Go listen to that briefing and write about it.
[The reporters leave and Prayuth turns back to the remaining reporters.]
Prayuth: It's not like I want to be moody. I have never insulted any of you. I only ask, when you ask me questions, to please consider my mood. When I answer, I look at my mood, and I look at your mood. I am not the enemy of any media agencies. Why are you so vengeful of me? I don't get it. You are still the same divisive media. I don't want to talk about this. I want all of you to be calm. If everyone is not calm, I will not be calm, and I am much less calm than all of you. My time is limited. I have started and tried to address 100 issues. I started with the first part, and I will let the next government work on the second part.
[A reporter asks Prayuth if he has seen the Thai Journalist Association's statement1 condemning his accusation that journalists are ordered by editors to write negatively about his government.]
Prayuth: They can issue whatever statement they want. They are coming after me at this time. When [the media] does something wrong, has this damn council ever done anything? Anything?
[A reporter reminds Prayuth that the statement criticizes his allegation that journalists are ordered to criticize his government.]
Prayuth: Fine, fine, you said you weren't [ordered to do that], so be it. I have seen [the statement]. But why did it turn out like that? You write that way. Never mind, I am never angry at you anyways. It's just that I am moody sometimes. I have to think a lot about many projects to help move the entire country forward. I give orders for the whole country. I do not only sit and listen to people’s proposals and sign my approval. Sometimes I initiate things and I use suggestions from here and there to help my decisions. There are function works [he uses English] and policy works. Over 20 issues. And then there are problems that have been here for a long time. I have spoken about so many things, but you accuse me of doing nothing. Be fair to me.
[A reporter asks Prayuth if he has any friends in the media.]
Prayuth: I am a friend of all media agencies. I am not your enemy. But you cannot have power over me. It doesn't work like that. I do not have power over you, and you do not have power over me. That's all. We have to cooperate to help this country move forward, so that foreign countries will honor us, so that they will see Thailand has solved its conflicts. Why don't you write like that? If you keep writing like this, trade and investment won't come, tourism will be worse. What I am saying to you today concerns the future. Today, why don't you look at it this way: this Prime Minister will be gone soon, let's put some hope in the next one who will continue his work? Write like that. You can keep teasing and taunting me in other ways. I am not angry. But [I am] when you write that I didn't do anything, and when you keep writing about politics. Today politics has not yet been reborn. There's no politics. Save your fights for when there are politics. I am not fighting with anyone. There are people whose lives are on the edge because of droughts, and I am only thinking about how to provide water and income to farmers.
[A reporter asks Prayuth if he will summon news editors for a meeting as officials have suggested.]
Prayuth: No. Why do I have to talk to them? Are they in my chain of command? No they are not. I talked to them when I first came to power, but it didn't get any better. So I won't talk to them anymore. I'm too lazy to do it. But if something good comes out of it, I will talk to them. If it's the same, then I won't talk. Enough. It's wasting my time. Show me some respect. That's all I have asked for. I already show respect to the media. Don't intrude on my rights. On that day when I invited the media executives, they were all so nice. ‘Yes, sir. Yes, brother. We will talk about it, sir.’ But on the next day, they insulted me again. So why would I want to talk to them again? Ok? Thank all of you. I spoke loudly sometimes today. I apologize for that.
1. An excerpt from the statement issued by the Thai Journalist Association in response to Gen. Prayuth's suggestion that journalists are ordered to report negatively about his administration.
"The accusation by the Prime Minister that journalists were ordered to write only negative things causes great pain to us journalists. We journalists have never seen Gen. Prayuth as our enemy. Our criticism is full of our concerns for the country. The Prime Minister has his own channels to explain about or take legal action against any criticism that is unfair to him."
CORRECTION: The original version of this article mistakenly reported that the statement responding to Gen. Prayuth's allegation was issued by Thailand's National Press Council.
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