BANGKOK — The Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement Saturday night “deploring” foreign media who allegedly misreported the number of Thais gathered to mourn the death of King Bhumibol Adulyadej.
The Saturday statement, which did not identify any media outlet specifically, deplored “some big foreign media” for reporting that “thousands” of Thais had gathered to mourn the loss of His Majesty the King at the Grand Palace.
The statement said the “actual number was much higher noting that “hundreds of thousands” lined the route from Siriraj Hospital to the Grand Palace.
It described the alleged discrepency between thousands at the palace and hundreds of thousands along the route as “manipulative and provocative.”
“It has been found that some big foreign media have been reporting erroneous or false information and accusations that are of a manipulative and provocative nature.”
“Such practices are not only unethical but also unprofessional, insensitive to the feelings of the Thai people and offensive towards Thai cultural traditions.”
It also said the number of people from all over the country expected to arrive in Bangkok to pay their tribute to the late King would be in the millions.
The complaint comes amid heightened scrutiny and apparent censorship of the news media, with indications foreign broadcasts are being monitored and interrupted at will.
After the announcement of the King’s death Thursday evening, all television channels including foreign networks such as the BBC were replaced with government-produced footage eulogizing the king.
BBC correspondent Jonathan Head confirmed their coverage about Thailand had been blocked in the country several times ever since.
“Whenever reporting on Thailand comes up our transmissions are blocked. Just now when I was reporting live,” Head told Khaosod English Sunday.
"The military junta that currently runs Thailand" – and then the BBC cuts to this. Thailand's censors are busy. pic.twitter.com/3NTJ40nGRU
— Andrew RC Marshall (@Journotopia) October 16, 2016
As the BBC broadcast continued to be blocked Sunday morning, Head said he did not know the rationale behind the decision.
“We have received no official complaints, and the MFA has not mentioned any problems with the BBC’s reporting. So we do not know why we are being blocked,” he said.
Government spokesperson Col. Sansern Kaewkamnerd said the government did not have a policy to censor both Thai and foreign media and did not order any channel off the air except on the occasion of special announcements, in which all channels must be tuned into Thailand’s state broadcast.
“I don’t know why we should block it,” said Sansern on Sunday. “We let televisions and radios broadcast normally unless there is an announcement to be made on television.”
TrueVisions, the BBC’s carrier in Thailand replied to Khaosod English Sunday evening, saying it was their own decision to take BBC news off the air. The decision was to comply with mourning period reporting guidelines issued by the regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC,) TrueVisions said.
“It was TrueVisions’ consideration for appropriateness according to the NBTC’s guideline,” said its spokesperson.
Khaosod English obtained messages Sunday claiming that TrueVisions was looking for freelancers to monitor BBC and Al Jazeera news.
“The job is to watch Al Jazeera and BBC. If they broadcast some bad news about the king, tell the person sitting next to you to cut it off the air,” read the message. “When that news ends, you switch it back.”
The messages were being circulated via Line among Chulalongkorn University students and alumni. The alleged job notice offered 1,400 baht for six hours work, from midnight until 6am, at the Tipco Building on Rama VI Road where TrueVisions’ office is located.
“The next hour you will see the news is rerun. So once you see the beginning of the clip, you can tell them to switch to censor screen straight away.”
Clarification: Details set forth in the MFA statement have been clarified to better reflect its assertions and complaint.