The Foreign Ministry has begun a troubling campaign that focusses on the foreign media. Technically, it involves re-defining the requirements needed for journalists and media workers to obtain and extend M-class visas to enter and reside in Thailand. But while the changes are described as technical, even the foreign minister admits the real aim is to make it harder for the foreign press to work in Thailand. This is not acceptable.
Thailand has enjoyed decades of respect for its freedom of the press. This was true even under some of the worst military dictators, even under the prickly and micro-managing Thaksin Shinawatra.
Foreign journalists and media concerns have based themselves in Thailand because of this. This sense of mutual respect seems now to be ending for the foreign press, as it has for the Thai media.
This development has come at a time of efforts to legitimise press intimidation and control via the new constitution. The military regime is already chipping away at press freedom with measures epitomised by the "attitude adjustment" sessions. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha also constantly harps on the theme that reporters and their news outlets are not giving recognition to the achievements of the regime. This only shows a misunderstanding of the media's role.
Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai has taken the lead in this latest step over visas for the foreign media. He has told foreign and local journalists the campaign should cut down on negative reporting. According to the minister, around 10% of the roughly 500 foreign journalists in Thailand will be affected. By "affected", he means no longer allowed to live or work in Thailand.
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The government is not being coy about this. The aim is to regulate the foreign press and get what it calls "unreal" journalists out of Thailand, and they will be dealt with through adjusting regulations about how to qualify for the ministry's blessings for an M-visa.
Rule No. 1 states the applicant "must be employed by a news agency registered with a competent agency of either the Thai or foreign government". Rule No. 2 is that he or she must be a salaried, full-time employee.
The problem is obvious. Freelance journalists and those working for new media will be mostly banned. This is only the first of several barriers the ministry is erecting.
The ministry intends to vet the records of visa applicants to see if they have ever committed "possible disruption to the public order" of Thailand. A criminal record report from the applicant's country, and copies of all work going back one year must be included.
This is all very intimidating. Mr Don and presumably the government he serves are upset at reporting on politics in the country. He has also mentioned the monarchy, which certainly is a topic in some foreign reports.
Mr Don has stated several times over the past few weeks that the new M-category visa regulations will only affect "unreal" journalists. They should not punish any news people. Trying to corral press reporting and regulate journalists is the wrong way to deal with the press.
Mr Don's concern about negative reporting is misplaced. Foreigners not only have a generally positive view of the country, but they continue to flock here to experience it. What is occurring will mar the image of the country abroad.
The Foreign Ministry needs to listen to the objections of the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand and cancel or amend these methods to regulate the foreign press.