Press freedom downgraded from ‘free’ to ‘partially free’

Press freedom downgraded from 'free' to 'partially free' - The Nation, May 2, 2003
..."In Thailand, which declined from 'free' to 'partly free' after two international publications (The Economist and Far Eastern Economic Review) were banned, local media faced official pressure to soften critical reporting, and several editors were forced to resign," Freedom House said... "As far as I know the media does not have less freedom," government spokesman Sita Divari said yesterday. "Two international publications were banned for national security but no radio programmes critical of the government that I know of have ever been taken off the air," he said...


[2015 note: Like many Thai newspaper articles from the early days of the Thai internet, this article is no longer online. Below is the complete text of the original article.]

PRESS FREEDOM: Survey downgrades Kingdom
Published on May 2, 2003

Thailand's proud image as Asia's hub of press freedom has been severely tarnished after an international study named the Kingdom as one of 11 countries worldwide where restrictions on independent media outlets have increased markedly.

In a report released on Wednesday, US-based Freedom House, a non-profit, non-partisan organisation, downgraded Thailand's media from "free" to "partly free".

It cited Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's pressure on local media and problems with international publications as the reason behind the downgrading.

"In Thailand, which declined from 'free' to 'partly free' after two international publications (The Economist and Far Eastern Economic Review) were banned, local media faced official pressure to soften critical reporting, and several editors were forced to resign," Freedom House said.

"The restrictions in Thailand came as Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra increased executive powers and moved to prevent media coverage of official corruption."

The downgrading is a major embarrassment to Thailand, previously known as having some of most open media in Asia, with it now ranked along with six other Asia Pacific nations with only a "partly free" press.

Eighteen countries in the region are classified as having a "free" media, while 14 others are rated as being "not free". Remarkably, countries with "free" media in Asia Pacific outnumber those in the "partly free" and "not free" categories.

"Newspapers in Thailand scrutinise official policies and report allegations of corruption and human rights abuses, but journalists exercise an increasing level of self-censorship," the organisation said.

"An independent media group's radio programmes were taken off the air on the grounds that they were too critical of the government.

"Media organisations accused the government of intimidation after learning that an anti-corruption agency had been instructed to investigate the bank accounts of leading journalists and critical publications."

The other countries downgraded by Freedom House are Armenia, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Jordan, Nepal, Panama, Peru, Russia, Ukraine, and Venezuela. Only two countries - Fiji and Sri Lanka - were upgraded.

Among the most serious developments were major press freedom setbacks in Russia, Ukraine and Venezuela.

Thailand scored 36 out of 100 for press freedom - on a scale in which the more repressive a country is, the bigger the number it scores.

Broken down, Thailand scored 12 out of 30 for legal environment, 12 out of 40 for political influences and 12 out of 30 for economic pressure.

"We are deeply concerned by this significant decline in press freedom," said Freedom House executive director Jennifer Windsor.

"Of particular concern is that some countries that are nominally democratic do not feature vibrant independent media due to heavy government interference," Windsor said.

The Thaksin government denied yesterday that press freedom was eroding in Thailand.

"As far as I know the media does not have less freedom," government spokesman Sita Divari said yesterday.

"Two international publications were banned for national security but no radio programmes critical of the government that I know of have ever been taken off the air," he said.

He also indicated the Anti-Money Laundering Office initiated its own investigation into bank accounts of journalists.

Surasak Jiramonkol, secretary-general of the Thai Journalists Association, said that media interference was a serious problem for the Thai media nowadays and the future of press freedom remained grim.

"Economic interference is affecting press freedom more blatantly than direct political intervention," Surasak said. "Politicians are trying to control the media through advertisement spending."

He added the financial pressure was forcing many journalists to exercise self-censorship.

Freedom House monitors political rights and civil liberties worldwide. In addition to its annual 'Freedom of the Press' survey, it also publishes 'Freedom in the World', an annual global survey measuring freedom in every country, and 'Nations in Transit', a comprehensive comparative survey of the post-Communist states of Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union.
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