Early Thai Media Censorship

100 FIRSTS: The media lose freedom - The Nation, December 26, 2004
...In the 1940s, it was common for editorial and printing-house staff to be kicked and punched by a squad of uniformed men invading their premises, and for their presses and other equipment to be destroyed...

[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.]

In the years before the 1932 coup, the Thai news media enjoyed considerable freedom. Even King Rama VI contributed to the media, writing articles to engage citizens in lively debates about the merits of his decisions.

In 1920, he actually awarded a royal decoration to Phraya Winaisunthorn (Wim Polakul), who had publicly objected to one of his ideas for developing the country. Far from being irked by any “presumptuousness”, the king said he appreciated Wim’s help in planning Siam’s future.

A decade later, though, such tolerance of open criticism had vanished, and a newspaper was shut down for the first time. In mid-1932, when the editor of the Yeesibsee Mithuna (24th June) published a story in which the names were similar to those of the military leaders within the ruling People’s Party, he paid the price.

Various kinds of punishments were meted out by the government to any newspaper employee involved in writing or publishing articles deemed as undermining public respect or faith in the government.

Through July 1934, the government closed 17 newspapers. Among the journalists jailed were Lui Kiriwat and Chaokhun Saraphai, who were later banished to remote Tarutao Island in the South.

In the 1940s, it was common for editorial and printing-house staff to be kicked and punched by a squad of uniformed men invading their premises, and for their presses and other equipment to be destroyed. Their crime was a perceived or actual slight against the government. Journalist Aree Leevira was shot dead by an unknown assailant. Under the Sarit regime, many others were accused of being communists and arrested.

It was rare for such brutality to befall female journalists, though they had played a large role in the media since the reign of King Rama V.

The first newspaper aimed solely at women, Nareerom, was launched in November 1888 by Prince Chaiyanmongkol, the youngest son of King Rama IV. With the prince as editor, the newspaper carried articles of interest to educated women, as well as poetry, but with few women able to pursue higher education in those days it lasted only a year.

The first female Thai journalist was Kobkan Visitsri, who wrote under the pen-name Kularbkhao. Her interviews with the likes of Phraya Aprirakracharit were published in weekly movie magazines in the late 1920s.

The first women’s magazine appeared in 1930. Nareenat had women at the helm, with Sumol Kanchanakom as editor and Anongnat Wiriyasiri as owner. The magazine published a famous long story titled “Kwampid krang raek” (“The First Mistake”) by a woman who called herself “Dokmaisod”. The magazine closed following the 1932 coup.

But that same year saw the launch of the first daily newspaper for women, Ying Thai (Thai Women). Not only was it staffed entirely by women – from owner Sap Anginan to editor Nualchawee Thepwan to reporters like Anong Amatayakul – even the men who wrote for it had to use female pen-names!

Women’s publications had their heyday between 1932 and 1941, though it pales in comparison with the prevailing scene today.

The freedom that the Thai media seem to enjoy now – criticising the government and often taking liberties with citizens’ privacy – is perhaps an illusion. They are invariably weighed down by their dependence on advertising revenue.

Nithinand Yorsaengrat, The Nation
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