Harassment of Thai PBS condemned

Harassment of Thai PBS condemned
This picture taken on May 21, 2014 shows microphones of reporters working for TV stations sitting on a table ahead of a press conference by an Army spokesman following talks between Thai Army leader General Prayut Chan-O-Cha and representatives of warring political rivals at the Army club in Bangkok.

Media and human rights groups yesterday condemned what they described as severe harassment of the media, following pressure by military officers against public broadcaster Thai PBS that resulted in a programme host being replaced.

The groups called on the authorities to stop threatening or intervening in the media freedom and urged Thai PBS to stand firm to protect the right to report news and serve as responsible media.

The Thai Journalists Association (TJA), Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA), and Human Rights Lawyers Association (HRLA), as well as its five allied groups, yesterday issued separate statements in response to a controversy involving Thai PBS.

Thai PBS on Friday announced the replacement of Nattaya Wawweerakup, host of its programme "People's Voices that Need to be Heard before the Reform". The move came after pressure from a group of military officers who claimed who have acted on an order from their unnamed boss at the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

Yesterday, the station said in its statement said the programme in question would continue to be broadcast. Thai PBS yesterday called for an end to the intervention and threat to the media, and it promised to serve as the mass media to the best of its ability, in a responsible way. "The media has the responsibility to report news freely and without any intervention," the statement said, insisting on Thai PBS's editorial independence.

Manop Thip-osot, spokesman for the TJA, yesterday said Nattaya's case was an example of "severe threat and intervention into the media".

He said although Thailand was now under martial law, the post-coup provisional charter guaranteed rights and liberties enjoyed under the previous charter that was abolished after the coup in May.

He also said that next week media groups would campaign publicly for annulment of NCPO Orders No 97 and 103 that restrict media freedom. He also called for lifting of martial law.

The TBJA condemned the act by the military officers, saying it was a direct threat to the media. It called on Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to give a clear stance on the matter. The group said he should make it clear if what the military officers did was a policy of the government and the NCPO, which Prayut also heads.

The HRLA, in its statement, said yesterday that that the act by the military officers in question was tantamount to violation of the media's rights and liberties. The association and five other groups called on the military to allow the media to perform their duties freely. They also urged the Thai PBS management to show moral courage in protecting media freedom.

Meanwhile, Army chief General Udomdej Sitabutr, who is also deputy defence minister, yesterday said that the military has not suspended any TV programme. He said that it seemed to him that the Thai PBS host has some attitude and misunderstanding that requires some adjustment.

Recently, Nattaya hosted the programme in Songkhla, with villagers and activists criticising the coup in response to provocative questions. The officers met with Thai PBS executives, asking for a shift in the focus of the programme and the removal of Nattaya as host.

An NCPO source said Nattaya's questions centred on whether southerners were comfortable under the NCPO and the government. The source said that the junta ordered three of its officers to meet Thai PBS chief Somchai Suwanban and seek his cooperation in the matter.

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