'Streisand effect' reaches out for NCPO chief

'Streisand effect' reaches out for NCPO chief

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks to the Government House press corps, seated at his feet. Such press conferences often put the premier in a prickly mood. (Photo by Thanarak Khunton)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha speaks to the Government House press corps, seated at his feet. Such press conferences often put the premier in a prickly mood. (Photo by Thanarak Khunton)

It's never easy for the media to work when the country is under a military regime. Poor ratings for press freedom given recently by two agencies, the US-based Freedom House and Reporters without Borders (RSF) have attested to this fact.

Freedom House rated Thailand low for another year, with an unimpressive score of 77 (out of 100), slightly better than Vietnam (85) and Laos (84).

Only the Philippines (44) and Indonesia (49) are considered partially free.

Achara Ashayagachat is Senior News Reporter, Bangkok Post.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Thailand 134th out of 180 countries in its 2015 World Press Freedom Index, as the regime has kept up drastic curbs on media freedom since it took power in 2014.

The media has been hounded by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) since the May 22, 2014 coup. Even though the regime has not gone so far as to close down or suspend any media outlets, these are difficult times between the government and reporters.

Our dear leader Prayut Chan-o-cha, in particular, has complained the media is "not objective enough, not patriotic enough and often sabotaging the ruling government with negative questions".

The cause of concern is now the Referendum Act which contains some contentious clauses that restrict the work of the press in providing information on the draft constitution.

The draft is seen as giving a licence to the junta and its future installed bodies to rule the country for at least another five years.

In recent times, media professionals who presented dark facts about the state have been subject to threats including warnings by the military government or agencies that deal with the media.

Among them, TV 3 reporter Thapanee Ietsrichai was blasted for ''not loving the country'' for her reports on the unfortunate plight of the Rohingya and other human trafficking victims.

At times, Ms Thapanee, who has gained international recognition from organisations including Amnesty International Thailand and Unesco, was also scolded by military officers in charge of the southernmost region for her honest coverage airing sympathetic voices for the Melayu Muslims.

Another case involved Pravit Rojanaphruk, a veteran print journalist who was forced last year to resign from The Nation where he had worked since 1992. Pravit was detained twice for attitude adjustment.

The NCPO has often warned warn him of his critical writing on human rights issues.

Pravit, now with Khaosod English online, was shortlisted for the Index on Censorship's Freedom of Expression Awards.

He is the first Thai to be nominated for the award, which tells us how he international community looks at us.

In addition, the regime barred Pravit from travelling to Helsinki to attend a World Press Freedom Day event today. The decision prompted the Finnish embassy to tweet the move as ''regrettable'' while the RSF blasted it as a ''blatant violation of the journalist's freedom of movement -- a basic right''.

Benjamin Ismaïl, head of RSF's Asia-Pacific desk, said Helsinki panels and advocates of media freedom would translate what Pravit says (via video-conference) to the event into French and Thai and will ask RSF networks to distribute it to as many media outlets as possible in Europe, the US and Southeast Asia, including obviously Thailand.

He also said: "We will give the junta and its chief, Gen Prayut Chan-ocha, a lesson in the Streisand effect."

The Streisand effect is what happens when an attempt to suppress content or opinions backfires and results in their getting much more attention.

It is named after US singer Barbara Streisand, whose lawsuit against a photographer in 2003 resulted in more than half a million Americans seeing the photo of her home that she wanted suppressed.

RSF even called Gen Prayut, who has uttered frequent verbal attacks and even joked about death threats against journalists, "a new predator of information".

The press, particularly netizens, are now combating allegations arising from the lese majeste law, the criminal defamation law and the Computer Crimes Act, as well as sedition charges defined under Section 116 of the Criminal Code if their writing or views lead to confusion or disaffection to the point of causing unrest. The law is punishable with seven years in jail.

Yet I still have faith in my colleagues who sincerely perform their duties and do their jobs for the public. The regime should realise Thais and world observers are not ignorant. Power, if abused, can backfire.

Achara Ashayagachat

Senior reporter on socio-political issues

Bangkok Post's senior reporter on socio-political issues.

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