The coup commander Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha on Tuesday "requested" that two of the country's best known military reporters stop asking "aggressive questions" at his press conferences and aides said the press "should cheer him on" rather than ask tough questions.
The army ordered Bangkok Post military affairs reporter Wassana Nanuam and her counterpart at Thai Rath, the Thai-language daily, to report to coup headquarters, where they were escorted by senior officials to a meeting about the tough questions.
The army chief, now head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), ordered army secretary Maj Gen Ponpat Wannapak to invite Ms Wassana and Suparirk Thongchairit to the army headquarters on Ratchadamnoen Avenue at 2pm Tuesday, where they were briefed on the NCPO chief’s request by Maj Gen Ponpat.
The “invitation” came a day after the two veteran journalists threw tough questions to Gen Prayuth seeking clear answers on a new prime minister and government, whether he would be a premier himself and the timeframe before a general election would be held.
In answer, Gen Prayuth said there would be an interim government. He neither confirmed nor denied he might take up the post as interim prime minister when the question was asked.
He described the timeframe prior to the election as “indefinite”, saying the poll must take place after peace and order were restored to the country.
Gen Prayuth was speaking after attending a ceremony to receive the royal command formally appointing him head of the NCPO at the army headquarters.
At Tuesday’s 45-minute meeting, Ms Wassana and Mr Suparirk said they were told that Gen Prayuth was unhappy at being asked questions in such a forceful and aggressive manner. Such questioning could affect confidence in his leadership, the army officers claimed to the two reporters.
“Gen Prayuth asked me to tell you that today he is not only an army chief but the leader of national administration, both legislative and administrative. So before answering questions, he must ponder them over and it is not yet the time to answer those questions about the appointment of prime minister, government and election," Maj Gen Ponpat said.
“And such a forceful style of asking is not appropriate. Therefore, we ask for cooperation. Do not ask in such a manner again. And please understand Gen Prayuth’s good intentions in solving the country’s problem.
"The press should cheer on him.
“In the current situation, any action that will affect the problem-solving efforts and confidence in the leader [the army] can take legal action but the army does not want to do that.”
He did not say what legal action could be taken for asking tough questions.
The army also asked Ms Wassana to curb internet users from posting comments that created conflict and divisions on her Facebook page. The Bangkok Post reporter said she technically could not disable posts from her Facebook friends and had appealed to them to avoid making war of words but failed because they were of different colour-coded groups.
She said she only did her job by reporting stories on her Facebook but she would be willing to let the army close it if the junta wanted to ban online posts deemed provocative or incite public disorder.
Bangkok Post editor Pichai Chuensuksawadi said last week that, "Our position is we continue as normal."