Thai journalist: Censorship ‘self-destructive, kills my spirit’

Purple S. Romero
Thai journalist: Censorship ‘self-destructive, kills my spirit’
Since the coup in Thailand, journalists have been summoned by the army and ordered to stop commenting on current events. A Thai broadcast journalist talks to Rappler about censorship in her country.

Days after placing Thailand under martial law on May 20, 2014, and declaring a coup on May 22, 2014, the Thai army summoned journalists including Pravit Rojanaphruk of The Nation and Thanapol Eawsakul of the news magazine Faw Die Gan.

Rojanaphruk, who has been known for openly questioning Thailand’s lese majesté (the prohibition against criticizing the monarchy), told ABC that what he went through was “psychological warfare.”

Reporters Without Borders, a non-profit organization that fights for press freedom around the world, said that 19 editors and publishers in Thailand have also been warned against using Facebook to post their political views. Operations in over 20 digital news outlets and 33 political satellite news channels were suspended after the coup, according to Rapid TV News, although majority have resumed work. 

We were able to interview a Thai broadcast journalist whose station remains suspended. Speaking on condition of anonymity, she talked to Rappler about the current state of the news media in Thailand and how censorship has personally affected her. Below are excepts from our interview:

Did you see it coming, the declaration of martial law?

Nearly every media [company] knew that [it will happen]. Three days before martial law there was a big blast and two people died. We predicted then that this would lead to martial law.

Tell us more about this blast.

It happened in the center of the city. No one knows really who did it – the red protesters, or the yellow supporters. Among us in the media, we thought it was the military.

You knew martial law was going to be declared; did you anticipate how it was going to affect the media?

We had 18 coups in Thailand but we never imagined it will be this bad. They tried to censor Facebook, social media, Line. In the past, you were not allowed to report on the negative effects of the coup. But in this coup, they even summoned people who gave interviews to foreign media. One very prominent journalist in Thailand was summoned to report to the army. He was detained for 5 days because he gave an interview to BBC.

Are you scared of the army?

I’m not personally scared but I have to be careful. We have to be careful.

UNDERGROUND. Thai soldiers and protesters in the capital of Bangkok. Photo by Rappler

Has the junta released any official rules for media operations?

No. We don’t know what to do. We just know that we cannot report on the negative outcome of the coup, about the international outcry against martial law. We cannot criticize the army, mock the army. You just think by yourself: what should I do?

How is the censorship implemented?

If you publish one article that is against the military or criticize them you can be detained. They tried to block social media because they know it is one of the most powerful tools for protest.

How did mainstream media react to it?

Journalists just go underground. They appear on TV, they say safe things but they go underground. They post their thoughts on Facebook or Twitter.

How has this affected local community media?

They have shut down satellite TV and local radio. In the northeastern part of Thailand [the stronghold of the Thaksins] they are against the coup but they don’t know how to express themselves. They just go to McDonald’s in red shirts in cafes. There was a callout on social media – in every province if you’re against the coup, just wear a red shirt and go to McDonald’s.

It’s better than nothing. Start from something small.

Do you need to go underground?

Our station has been suspended but the army spokesman said maybe next week we can go on with our operations again – but under the condition that we will have no news commentary. Our station carries analysis that’s why they suspended us. More than 10 TV stations have been suspended. For radio, I think more than a hundred [have been suspended].

What does your news outlet do now?

We have a website. We practice self-censorship. We have put down our Twitter account and Facebook page already. It is self-destructive. You censor yourself.

How is this affecting you personally?

It kills my spirit so I go underground. Very few people watch TV now, they go to Facebook for information.

Has there been an official statement from any media organization denouncing the censorship?

They don’t use the word denounce. They say we are concerned about the situation but we will operate as normal. But what is normal?

There was a magazine though – that was the first magazine to fight censorship – which only published nearly blank pages. They only wrote the words “For the Freedom of the Press.” I hope others will follow suit. That was very inspiring.

You said censorship has ‘killed your spirit.’ 

Yes it has, but it will not stop me from doing what I do in any way. I also know that going underground is not the way to correct what’s wrong in Thai media. But that’s the only way for now.

What kind of help or assistance can foreign media offer?

The best thing you can do for us is to do [what we’re unable to do.] We cannot say things that we should be saying. Please come to Thailand and report the truth which we are unable to say right now. –

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