Time to let    journalists do their job
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Time to let    journalists do their job

The move to streamline the visa application process, including tougher accreditation mechanisms for foreign media applicants, has put the Foreign Affairs Ministry (MFA) and other state agencies in the hot seat.

Changes already in place have had many observers cast suspicious looks at the ministry, an organisation supposed to be the face of the country.

The latest saga involves a requirement levelled against a leading global media outlet to provide proof of it being a "media company" for its correspondents to get M-visa status.

I won't name the organisation, though, for decades, it has been recognised as one of the least biased news agencies in the world. Such an organisation should not need to show a certified document to prove to the ministry that it is a media agency.

The tougher measures followed an announcement by the ministry that it was going to tighten the rules for foreign journalists applying for visas in the country, drawing a spate of criticism.

In a response to critics, Sek Wannamethee, head of the Department of Information and also the spokesman of the MFA, in his letter to this newspaper on Wednesday said: "Though the MFA is not the visa-issuing agency, the ministry will continue to assist in recommending and facilitating foreign journalists and correspondents in applying for their appropriate visa type, as the ministry has no intentions to restrict, forbid or limit the work of foreign media, as well as foreigners who work in Thailand."

His statement is flowery but meaningless. We know it is Mr Sek's job as a spokesman to protect the MFA's image as the ministry tries to toe the military regime's line.

As many may already know, the military-led government is not comfortable with the foreign media's interest in ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra -- perceived by the regime as its nemesis.

It just so happens that this foreign media outlet was one of the several organisations that recently interviewed Thaksin. The fact that the MFA is being tough on the organisation could be seen as retribution for conducting an interview with the regime's enemy.

It should be noted that the accreditation documents the MFA requested were never required in the past as part of the application process. The request could be brushed off as just another new prerequisite to get the visa. But then, there is more to it than meets the eye.

Some cabinet ministers, who are supposed to stand for freedom and equality, have come out to state that they do not want to interact with foreign media outlets. One minister even went on to say that the foreign media should head to Dubai -- an apparent reference to Thaksin's place of residence -- if they want to talk to anyone in regards to Thailand and its current situation.

Foreign media organisations are known to be very outspoken and open in their coverage of the news because there is no kreng jai attitude among them. It would now appear that these media outlets are being singled out simply for doing their job.

The job of journalists is to gather all viewpoints and share them with their audience, letting readers or viewers decide what is wrong and right. I do not think any of the foreign media outlets think Thaksin is a good man. But isn't it the media's job to present all sides of the story and let readers make their own judgements?

If that is the case, why is there retribution against foreign media outlets?

The regime should not feel intimidated whenever Thaksin makes an appearance in the media. Actually, those in the government should take advantage of those opportunities by engaging with the foreign media. Such an action would send a positive signal to the world.

Foreign media organisations and Thaksin are not threats as long as the military regime does the right thing. That is to push for genuine reform and prove to Thais that it has no intention to prolong its hold on power. Being tough on the foreign media is just useless.

On the contrary, if reform -- or at least laying good groundwork for reform -- is completed, the military can rest assured that when they are gone from politics, Thais will be strong enough to handle bad politicians.

Umesh Pandey is editor of Asia Focus and a board member of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand.

Umesh Pandey

Bangkok Post Editor

Umesh Pandey is Editor, Bangkok Post.

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