Police as Thailand's new media censor?

Secret plans to hand media censorship over to police. Yingluck govt plan to give power to close newspapers to police chief.

media freedom map

Map above shows 2010 press freedom index scores. Countries in darker blue have less freedom of the press (Source: Wikipedia)

Click button to listen to Abolish Printing Act to download

EDITORIAL: Abolish the Printing Act (8/11/2011)


The attempt by the Yingluck Shinawatra government to sneak through more and harsher censorship laws deserves strong condemnation and counter-action. The law it tried to change, the Printing Act of 2007, is already a sword of Damocles hanging over freedom of the press. The main change this government sought - to appoint the national police chief as the country's censor-in-chief - is a step backwards, giving government control of all media. This attempt to re-impose media control must invigorate demands that the entire Printing Act be abolished.

The Printing Act was written during the ordeal of the recent military junta. It was presented as a sublime, helpful version of the 1941 Printing Act - the now-abolished draconian law used by dictators through past decades to stifle, threaten and shut down the Thai media. The military regime of 2006 felt is was necessary to "update" the 1941 law.

The Printing Act of 2007 directly contradicts the military-dictated 2007 Constitution. It allows security forces, during a time of national emergency, to shutter printing shops and newspapers. The original bill slants this power towards the military. The government claims that its furtive attempt to amend the law was meant only to change that authority to policemen, away from generals.

This claim would be preposterous even if the government had been open about amending the Printing Act. Given its backroom actions, far from the annoying public and civil groups, it is a weak claim at best. The government did nothing to inform the public that it was changing or removing its right to a free press. Only when the Council of State advised that the amendments were probably illegal did the public even learn about them.

It is reasonable to ask the prime minister and her cabinet: Can you read? Chapter 3, Part 7 of the Constitution says the media (as Thai citizens) are free "to present news and express opinions... without mandate of (the) government". Then, to be clear, it says any order from a politician or government official interfering with this "shall be deemed as wilful misuse of power". If there is any doubt possible after this, the Constitution states, "The closure of a newspaper or other mass media business... shall not be made." And "censorship before publication is prohibited."

Yet, the Yingluck government was set to give the police chief the power to close newspapers on nothing but his word.

To be fair, there are specific exceptions to media freedom in the supreme law. These deal with protection of the high institution, libel and threats to the security of the nation. A reasonable person would interpret that to mean that if Thailand were invaded by a foreign country, the state might have to impose censorship on reports that would aid the enemy.

Unfortunately, not everyone in government and the security forces is reasonable. Far too many politicians, including the elder brother of the current prime minister, believe that the survival of their government is equal to the survival of the nation. It is not. Governments and politicians come and go; the nation endures.

Thais argue, bicker, disagree, occasionally even fight. But they do not endanger the nation. It is insupportable that this government would attempt to tamper secretly with the Constitution to try to make it easier to muzzle the media and public opinion. If the government really wants to defend freedom of the media, the first step is easy enough - revoke the Printing Act immediately.

(Source: Bangkok Post, EDITORIAL, Abolish the Printing Act, 8/11/2011, link

Freedom of the Press and Censorship Vocabulary

the 1941 Printing Act -
"under the 1941 Printing and Advertisement Act, the Royal Thai Police Special Branch issued warnings to publications for various violations such as disturbing the peace, interfering with public safety, or offending public morals." (Source: US Department of State; See also Wikipedia on censorship in Thailand)

censorship - when the government officially examines and cut out things from writing before it is released to the public การตรวจสอบสื่อต่างๆ เพื่อตัดส่วนที่ไม่เหมาะสมออก (See Wikipedia and on Thailand and discussion at New Mandala)
censor - person or organisation who examines media and removes parts it doesn't want the public to hear
sneak through more and harsher censorship laws

press - newspapers and magazines, and those parts of television and radio which broadcast news, or reporters and photographers who work for them สื่อมวลชน

freedom of the
press - as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: "Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers," though some "sensitive" or "classified" information (state secrets) is against the law to reveal, for example plans during wartime (See Wikipedia)
freedom of the media -
same as "freedom of the press"

act - a law passed by a country's government พ.ร.บ. พระราชบัญญัติ
abolish - to officially get rid of a law, system, practice, etc. ยกเลิก
abolish the printing act - end the Printing Act

censor-in-chief - the overall head of censorship in the country
commander-in-chief - the overall head of the military (in the US, this is the President)
appoint - to choose someone officially for a job or responsibility แต่งตั้ง,ตั้งให้เป็น
appoint the national police chief as the country's censor-in-chief

media - radio, television, newspaper, the Internet, considered as a group สื่อ
media control - when someone controls what the media can say and write (in newspapers, on TV, over the internet, etc)
re-impose - impose again (for a second, third, etc time)
re-impose media control - start controlling the media again

defend - to say things to support someone or something ปกป้อง
defend freedom of the media

sword of Damocles -
an ever present threat or danger (like a sword hanging over your head that could drop at any moment) (See Wikipedia and Wordsmith)
sword of Damocles hanging over freedom of the press

impose
- to force someone to accept something กำหนด,บังคับ to introduce something, such as a new law or new system and force people to accept it นำกฎหมายมาบังคับใช้

aid - help or assistance given to someone ความช่วยเหลือ
aid the enemy - help the enemy
state - government รัฐ
impose censorship
- force people to be censored (when they obviously don't want to be censored)
the state might have to impose censorship on reports that would aid the enemy

condemnation - a public statement in which someone criticises someone or something severely การประนามหยามเหยียด
counter-action - act against; to take action to oppose or stop something ต่อต้าน

invigorate - do an activity with greater energy, more intensely
demands - the things that someone is asking you to do
invigorate demands - ask even more strongly for something to be done

ordeal - an extremely unpleasant experience, especially one that lasts for a long time ประสบการณ์ที่แสนสาหัส
junta - a group of military officers that governs a country, usually without having been elected รัฐบาลทหาร
the ordeal of the recent military junta

draconian
- a law with a very harsh and severe punishment
decades - periods of ten years เป็นสิบๆปี
stifle - prevent a good thing from continuing
threaten - to say that you might do something bad or harmful, especially in order to make someone do something ขู่เข็ญ คุกคาม ทำให้กลัว

the now-abolished draconian law used by dictators through past decades to stifle, threaten and shut down the Thai media

regime
- a government that controls a country, especially in a strict or unfair way รัฐบาลที่ขึ้นมาปกครองโดยการยึดอำนาจ รัฐบาลที่มาจากการยึดอาำนาจ
military regime - a military government
security forces - the military

update - make something new and modern (following the latest standards and trends)
X contradicts Y -


emergency - an unexpected situation involving danger in which immediate action is necessary เหตุฉุกเฉิน
national emergency - a dangerous situation for the whole country

shutter - to close, especially a business ปิดตัวลง
shutter printing shops and newspapers - close newspapers and printers (that can be used to print newspapers)

bill - a written document containing a proposal for a new law ญัตติ
power - อำนาจ
the original bill slants this power towards the military - the first law gives censorship power to the military

furtive -
secret (done in a way that people cannot see what you are doing)
amend - change a law; to make changes to a document, law, agreement, etc. especially in order to improve it การแก้ไขกฎหมาย
amending - making changes to a document, law, agreement, etc. การแก้ไขกฎหมาย
furtive attempt to amend the law - secret attempts to change the law (hidden from public view)

authority - the power to make decisions and control events or tell people what to do อำนาจ, อำนาจในการสั่งการ
change that authority to policemen, away from generals

preposterous -
ridiculous, laughable, not reasonable or possible, impossible (example: she made the preposterous claim that the earth was flat, not round)
claim - saying something is true without proving it yet
claim would be preposterous - the claim would be ridiculous and impossible

open - ready to consider or accept new ideas or suggestions
open about amending the Printing Act - ready to accept or consider changes in the Printing Act

backroom actions -
secret actions (by politicians making deals in "backrooms" where the public can't see what is happening)

annoy - when a person does something to make you angry
civil groups - groups representing different groups of people in society (example: a group representing farmers or teachers or government workers) 
annoying public and civil groups

inform - tell people about what happened, report new information to people who don't know about it yet
inform the public - tell the people what is happening

removing its right to a free press

Council of State - a group of legal experts that advises the Prime Minister and the cabinet on whether proposed laws are probably legal or not 

illegal - against the law อย่างผิดกฎหมาย, นอกกฎหมาย

clear - easy to understand
official - approved by the government or some authority ที่เป็นทางการ

express opinions -
tell people what you think about some issue 
mandate -
given permission (or the official authority and power) to do something (by someone with authority and power)

express opinions
... without mandate of (the) government
- say what you think without having to ask the government for permission before you do it
the media (as Thai citizens) are free "to present news and express opinions... without mandate of (the) government".

clear -
easy to understand

any order from a politician or government official
deemed - considered เห็นว่า ถือว่า
misuse - to use something in an unsuitable way or in a way that was not intended ใช้ในทางที่ผิด
wilful - not a mistake or accident; done on purpose with full knowledge of likely result 

deemed as wilful misuse of power - they used their power in the wrong way (abused, misused) probably for personal gain (and they knew they were doing this, when they did it)

doubt - not know for sure if something is true or false, uncertain
mass - large numbers จำนวนมหาศาล
mass media - media such as newspapers and TV read and watched by large numbers of people

exceptions - people or cases that are treated differently from normal
libel - to write or print something in a book or publication that wrongly damages a person's reputation and therefore is illegal, also can include broadcast media such as TV, also called "defamation" (See Wikipedia)

institution
- an important tradition or system upon which society is based สถาบัน
interpret - to decide what the intended meaning of something is อธิบาย,ชี้แจง

current - of the present time ปัจจุบัน
current Prime Minister - the person who is Prime Minister now (Yingluck Shinawatra)

elder
- older ที่แก่กว่า
the elder brother of the current prime minister - meaning: Thaksin

come and go - change frequently, are there only for a short time (example: fashion trends come and go, they seem to change every year)
endure - continues to exist (without any loss in quality or importance) (example: an enduring friendship)
politicians come and go; the nation endures

bicker -
argue, fight, disagree about something   
occasionally - sometimes, but not frequently or regularly บางครั้งบางคราว

endanger
- to put into danger ทำอันตราย ทำให้ตกอยู่ในอันตราย
endanger the nation - put the country in danger 

Constitution - a system of laws for a country that: 1. describes how the government of the country works; and 2. states the rights and duties of people in the country (See Wikipedia) รัฐธรรมนูญ

tamper - try to change something or interfere with something (when you do not have the right to do this) (example: tampering with the evidence in a criminal case is illegal)
tamper with the Constitution - make changes to the constitution (when you have no right to do this)

muzzle -
to prevent a person from expressing their views freely
muzzle the media - prevent the media from writing some things

tamper secretly with the Constitution to try to make it easier to muzzle the media and public opinion

revoke - officially end, cancel; e.g., a law or a document ยกเลิก เพิกถอน
immediately - happening right after something else with no delay; right away ทันที
revoke the Printing Act immediately -  end the Printing Act now

About the author

columnist
Writer: Jon Fernquest
Position: Online Writer