Thai military rulers tighten watch on media

BANGKOK - Thailand's military junta is tightening its watch on the media, setting up committees to monitor the news and report "misinformation" and content fomenting "hatred" of the monarchy.

Four separate panels will each monitor radio and TV, print media, social media, and the foreign media. The Special Branch of the police will monitor local print media, and the Ministry of Information and Communication Technology will monitor social media, reports said.

The decision was taken yesterday by a committee chaired by Police General Adul Saengsingkaew, deputy chief for special affairs of the junta's National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

But the junta's suppression of media freedom is drawing more pressure from Western governments. Just this week, the European Union suspended official visits.

And in the US, just a few hours before the new media monitoring structure was announced, Mr Scot Marciel, a top official of the State Department's Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, told a House sub-committee: "The coup and post-coup repression have made it impossible for our relationship with Thailand to go on with 'business as usual'."

He added: "We have suspended more than US$4.7 million (S$5.9 million) of security- related assistance... In addition, we have cancelled high- level engagements, exercises and a number of training programmes with the military and police."

In response to a question on whether the annual multilateral military exercise Cobra Gold involving Thailand, the United States, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia and South Korea would be affected, Mr Marciel said: "It will depend partly on what happens on the ground there."

But the junta has dismissed outside pressure. The Air Force's commander-in-chief and deputy junta chief said yesterday that the Air Force would not be affected if the US moves the annual Cobra Gold exercise from Thailand.

Earlier yesterday, the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights - a group providing legal aid to people targeted by the junta in publicly announced summons or informal phone calls - said in a statement that there had been cases of detainees being blindfolded as they were moved from place to place while being held for the period of up to seven days allowed without charge under martial law.

Some had been accommodated in guest rooms in military bases, but others had been confined to cells, the group alleged. Some detainees, deprived of their mobile phones, were allegedly forced to reveal their social media passwords.

In addition to those reporting and being temporarily detained, at least 178 others had been arrested, including 55 people apprehended during public demonstrations against the junta, the lawyers' group said.

Army spokesmen have said that detainees are well treated.

But Mr Marciel told the House subcommittee: "Recent events have shown that the current military coup is both more repressive and likely to last longer than the last one."

The NCPO'S popular measures at home - like crackdowns on criminal elements and the mafia - have earned some approval from Thais, according to recent opinion polls.

But analysts are warning that the opinion polls by institutes such as the Suan Dusit Rajabhat University and the royalist National Institute for Development Administration had small samples and may be misleading.

"Four weeks after seizing power, the NCPO is on the honeymoon cruise Thai citizens appear intent on awarding every new regime, of every type," the Bangkok Post said in an editorial yesterday.

It added that the junta chief and the officials "he picks must run the country, deal with foreign friends and the not-so-friendly. Within weeks, the regime must prepare a budget".

It also said that "General Prayuth Chan-ocha would be well advised to ignore all opinion polls for a while. His hard work hasn't even begun, and if political history means anything, he will be facing criticism soon enough".

This article was first published on June 26, 2014.
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