Censorship a futile tactic
The embattled Prayut Chan-o-cha government seems set to ignore calls by several sectors of society to compromise and hold out the olive branch of a seat at the negotiating table for the young protest leaders. Instead, it looks increasingly prepared to up the ante by censoring the news reports of media outlets sympathetic to the cause of the pro-democracy movement.
Initial reports, confirmed by senior police, said the authorities have cited provisions included in the emergency decree as the legal basis for their wish to block access to the online portals of Prachatai, Voice TV, The Reporters, The Standard and the Free Youth Movement. The authorities want these four media outlets as well as the activists' own webpage taken down in order to remove certain content on the grounds they "have threatened national security and ethics". Deputy police spokesman Krissana Pattanacharoen branded the content "distorted information" with the potential to cause confusion and unease.
As any order must be announced in the Royal Gazette before it becomes enforceable, cynics may say these moves are already a fait accompli and the "threats" a ruse to snuff out coverage until the mandate is granted.
The public and media organisations alike have slammed not only the intent but also seemingly deliberately vague nature of the order which gives the government near carte blanche to decide what will or won't be censored, particularly in the realm of live reporting.
The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand, weighed in to express its "deep concern" over this looming cloud of censorship, adding that it "makes the government appear heavy-handed and unresponsive to criticism, and could stir up even more public anger".
"Bona fide journalists should be allowed to report important developments without the threat of bans, suspensions, censorship or prosecution hanging over them," the club said in a statement.
Confusion reigns, however, after Digital Economy and Society Minister Buddhipongse Punnakanta said later that it was still within the power of all five of these organisations to have their admin staff remove content the government has deemed inappropriate and carry on operating as usual.
Yet while one hand was offering Prachatai et al their own loaded gun with which to shoot themselves in the foot by alienating an audience used to a certain level of journalistic integrity, it was also priming an even bigger arsenal of its own behind the scenes.
Deputy police spokesman Pol Col Krissana later confirmed that requests have been made to the telecoms chiefs and the DSE Ministry for the authorities to arbitrarily ban broadcasts and block internet content in accordance with an emergency decree already labelled an "over-reaction" to the peaceful gatherings of last Wednesday and Thursday.
It seems this government is blind to the fact that truth can no longer be distorted nor narratives crafted by those in the seats of power. Blocked websites can be accessed by alternate means and social media transcends geographical boundaries.
Its efforts at censorship may ultimately be a bigger blight on its reputation than the already disseminated content it futilely hopes to redact.
Actual talks, of the face-to-face kind, are also being urged by business leaders concerned that a lengthy stand-off will only further empty their coffers and the pockets of their employees.
And in doing the right thing, Prime Minister Prayut may also be able to save his own skin and remain at the helm of the country's ruling coalition.
Bangkok Post editorial column
These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.
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