Journalists push for lifting of ban

Journalists push for lifting of ban

The Thai Journalists Association will push next week for the lifting of orders restricting freedom of expression of journalists and the general public, as well as martial law.

In a statement issued on Saturday afternoon, chairman Manop Thip-osod said the association would ask the junta to review announcements No. 97 and 103 issued by the National Council for Peace and Order after the May 22 coup.

The announcements prohibit the media from inviting academics, former government officials, judges or members of independent bodies for interviews that may "cause confusion" in society. They also ban criticism of the NCPO and propagation of confidential official information in all forms.

Such restrictions have destroyed the opportunity to exchange views, a prerequisite for reform, said Mr Manop, a Bangkok Post journalist.

He cited the case of Nattaya Wawweerakhup, a ThaiPBS TV host, who was removed from a programme after soldiers visited the station. Such a move is a severe threat and intervention in the media, he said.

Even though martial law is in place, Section 4 of the 2014 interim charter endorses the same rights and freedoms that Thais have always enjoyed, he added.

"Thai media can't ignore what happened to Ms Nattaya as it is a blatant violation of the basic freedom of expression of Thais in general. It shouldn't have happened in a country undergoing reform," he said.

"The mass media is the most important public platform for mobilising ideas and reflecting the people's wishes. Although the military claimed it did not order its men to take action against Ms Nattaya or ThaiPBS executives, it can't deny the responsibility."

Martial law should also be lifted immediately to create an atmosphere in whichpeople can take part in reform, which can bring back peace, a common goal of everyone, he said.

The army chief on Saturday denied news reports that soldiers had pressured Thai PBS to ban its Voice of the People TV programme.

Gen Udomdej Sitabutr also said soldiers never forced the management of ThaiPBS to replace Ms Nattaya.

"We've never asked anyone to stop doing anything. But if we find out someone has an attitude that indicates he doesn't understand the situation, we need to talk to him. In fact, we talk with [the executives of] some channels regularly," the army chief said.

The situation has improved significantly since the coup but talks are still necessary, especially when something paints a negative picture, said Gen Udomdej, who is also the deputy defence minister.

"If a programme threatens peace or is not appropriate in the current situation, we need to maintain order."

Thai media reported earlier that five army officers, claiming to be following their bosses' orders, met the channel's executives at the station on Tuesday, asking them to stop airing the programme.

They reportedly did not like the questions asked by Ms Nattaya on an episode called "Listening to Southerners' Views before Reform".

Ms Nattaya confirmed to Isra News Agency on Friday that she had been removed from the programme.

The episode, shot in Hat Yai and aired on Nov 8, touched on the coup.

After meeting with the soldiers, the TV network's management removed Ms Nattaya from the programme. The format of the programme was also changed from group interviews to straight-news reports.

ThaiPBS executives refused to comment on the situation.

Gen Udomdej also discussed progress on creating "an understanding" with northeastern people, saying that Army Region 2, which is responsible all 20 provinces in the Northeast, had done a good job and he was not worried.

"While there's still dissent, it doesn't go beyond the framework we laid down," he said.

Also on Saturday, the First Cavalry Squadron, King's Guard, turned down a request by the organiser of a planned talk show and concert called "Our Plot - Whose Land?".

Commander Lt Col Passakorn Kulrawiwan told the organisers the NCPO did not allow the show to be held but refused to show documents to that effect.

Organisers had planned to stage the event at the Alliance Francaise Bangkok on Sunday.

Pakorn Areekul, one of the organisers, said the soldiers just said they were "uncomfortable" with some of the speakers but refused to elaborate.

The talk show features speakers from five sectors: Sulak Sivaraksa, a social commentator; Phasuk Pongpaichit, an economist;Tul, a member of the Apartment Khun Pa band; Prayong Doklamyai, an adviser to the Northern Farmers Federation; and Prue Odochao, a pakakayor minority group member in Chiang Mai who has campaigned for a people's version of the community forest bill.

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