PM media ire worsens mess
published : 27 Mar 2015 at 06:00
newspaper section: News
Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha's rage against journalists for exposing Thailand's problems is not helpful to him or the country.
The PM - who is also chief of the ruling junta or National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) - has earned a reputation for his intolerance of media inquiries.
Reports of the premier's sporadic clashes and heated exchanges with journalists during his many months in power are proof of a less-than-healthy relationship.
Those quibbles, however, pale in comparison to his latest outburst on Tuesday.
Before departing for Brunei, Gen Prayut blasted a Channel 3 reporter for bringing to light the previously unknown fact that there are jails and graveyards for Thai fishermen, who have been left stranded in Indonesia for various reasons, on the country's Ambon Island and Benjina village, dating back to 2006.
On the same occasion, the visibly angry PM used strong words to lash out at ASTV columnists for criticising his government. He also accused the Matichon daily newspaper of being biased in favour of administrations associated with former PM Thaksin Shinawatra.
To cap it all off, the premier threatened to use his special power to shut down media outlets that do not toe the official line. He said the regime will "probably execute" those who fail to tread carefully and stick to ethics.
While it is understood from the context that the general was only being sarcastic with his "execution" threat, as the leader of a nation, he should not have let slip such a controversial remark.
For Gen Prayut personally, being seen as a temperamental prime minister who cannot maintain grace under pressure is detrimental to the public's perception of his character.
The perceived flaw will make it increasingly difficult for him to bring the country back to peace, unity and democracy.
As far as his relationship with reporters is concerned, the premier's perceived aggression and prejudice against media rights and professional responsibility - as displayed during the tirade on Tuesday - could be perceived as an attempt to intimidate the media.
Such an image will backfire on the country, its reputation and its efforts to move forward after the May 22 coup.
Gen Prayut's rationale behind criticising Channel 3 reporter Thapanee Ietsrichai is particularly damaging.
In his reproach, the premier questioned the point of exposing Thailand's human trafficking and illegal fishing problems to the world.
He also appeared to worry that honest reporting on these issues could cause foreign countries to stop buying fish and seafood, worth 200 billion baht, from Thailand.
Gen Prayut asked if Ms Thapanee can take responsibility for the loss. He also instructed the journalist to report to the junta when she returns to the country.
The PM has obviously lost his grasp on the real issue. As a journalist, Ms Thapanee has fulfilled her duty by bringing to light Thailand's human rights problems as well as the plight of fishing crew stranded in a foreign country with little assistance.
It is not a reporter's responsibility to prevent the resulting loss of income if a country cannot export seafood because of alleged human trafficking or illegal fishing problems.
Indeed, it's the PM's duty to tackle the issues and ensure the international community recognises the concerted effort to address serious problems.
Blaming journalists for doing their jobs - fulfilling peoples' right to information by exposing problems - or threatening to shut media outlets down, will not help PM Prayut in this matter. If anything, his antics will only make it harder for him to solve the country's pressing dilemmas.