By Marwaan Macan-Markar
BANGKOK, Apr 19 (IPS) – When the Thai government imposed an emergency law cracking down on rampaging red-shirted protesters on the streets of Bangkok, the military, in combat gear, was not its only weapon. The state’s censors were given liberty to silence critical media.
By the weekend, this climate of censorship had spread beyond the capital and five neighbouring provinces where the emergency decree is still in force. Community radio stations sympathetic to the anti-government ‘red-shirts’ in northern and northeastern provinces were raided by the police and closed down.
The information and technology ministry flexed its muscles, too, ordering Internet service providers to shut down 67 websites. That number may grow, warns a media rights activist, since “websites that were critical but not sympathetic to the ‘red-shirts’ have also been targeted.”
The four-month-old coalition government, led by the Democrat Party, justifies such measures to prevent more violence and mayhem on the streets as was witnessed from Apr. 13 through 14 in the capital. Clashes between angry ‘red-shirts’ and troops at a number of street corners resulted in over 100 people being injured and reportedly two deaths.
“The radio stations were closed because they were being used to incite violence,” Buranaj Smutharakas, Democrat Party spokesman, told journalists. “The right to free speech ends when it is being used to call for violence.”
“Although the government has brought to an end the ‘red rampage’ in Bangkok, the situation remains fragile,” he added. “The government’s major efforts are to prevent [‘red shirt’] members from resorting to terrorism and [creating an] armed resistance movement.”
Yet the act of censorship – beginning on Apr. 13 with the shutting down of the satellite news broadcaster ‘D Station’, the mouthpiece of the ‘red shirts’ – has inadvertently exposed the bias that grips local media. Mainstream print and broadcast media were not censored – they had portrayed the Democrat Party-led coalition in a positive light.
Continue reading “THAILAND: With Censorship, Thais Turn to Websites and Foreign Media”