Thai media, freedom of speech, and freedom to information are under threat in Thailand by a government that is robbing the people of their rights and freedoms.
My name is Jom Petpradab and I have been a working journalist in Thailand for more than 20 years in newspaper, radio, and television media. On Sunday morning, September 6th, 2009 while I was hosting my radio program, “Exclusive with Jom Petpradab”, I received a live call from former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra who was in Dubai. He was interested in giving me an interview because the month previous I had contacted his personal lawyer requesting an interview. Before the interview started, I informed my audience that Thaksin was on the phone, that I was conducting the interview as an unbiased journalist. I reminded the audience that I am not a supporter of the former Prime Minister, was not interested in being used as an outlet for propaganda, and simply wanted my audience to be able to hear his opinion on the many accusations revolving around him. Ultimately, my motivation is to help my audience and the Thai nation better understand the political crisis that our country is embroiled in. Essentially, I was doing my job as a journalist.
My interview with Thaksin lasted for 40 minutes and I conducted it ethically, without favoritism or prejudice, and exercised proper journalistic integrity. For example, I asked him why he does not resign from politics to help ease the political crisis, whether he is loyal or wants to harm the monarchy, why he doesn’t come back to Thailand to accept the criminal convictions against him, whether he smuggled funds from the country, and how he was funding his business and political interests while abroad. The interview, in Thai, can be found at the Prachatai website.
A key question asked, and indeed a fundamental question for our country, is how we can negotiate our current political crisis and reconcile the conflict. While I am a journalist and have conducted my interview with proper journalistic ethics, I am still a citizen and hope that we can find a solution to political conflict without bloodshed. Thaksin, love him or hate him, is at the center of this crisis. He is not only a legitimate news maker but he is a central figure to the crisis and therefore his opinion on how to negotiate this conflict is essential. To this end, I asked Thaksin “The whole country, even red and yellow, wants peace, why don’t you call the Prime Minister or talk to the government to find a way to reconcile this conflict?”
While I was conducting my interview with Thaksin, Sathit Wongnongtoey a Minister attached to the Prime Minister’s Office, called the president of MCOT radio to ask why he would allow Thaksin on a government radio station. He claimed Thaksin should not be allowed on government radio because he is a fugitive, has tried to attack the Privy Council, and has challenged the authority of the judicial system. He ordered the MCOT president to report to him within 24 hours to explain why MCOT was not following government policy for media not to incite political unrest. Reporters at MCOT are now in fear of doing their jobs and feel that they must present favorable, unquestioning coverage of the government or face punishment.
While the freedom of the press, including government controlled media, is protected by Article 46 of the Thai constitution, it is clear that the Thai media is unable to exercise its constitutionally guaranteed rights. In short, Thai media is not free and is subject to considerable governmental control. This is not simply a problem under the Premiership of Abhisit, but is part of a long history of restrictions on media freedom in Thailand. While Thaksin was Prime Minister, he tried to intimidate the press through costly lawsuits or through direct ownership of media outlets. I had trouble with him while trying to interview his political opponents at the time. After the 2006 coup, the junta first threatened to have me fired for airing an interview with a taxi driver who was protesting the loss of democracy and I was finally fired after trying to air an interview with Thaksin immediately after the 2007 election. My difficulties trying to exercise free and fair reporting are not unique but are representative of the whole profession which has suffered from a lack of freedom and persistent government interference.
What has happened to me is simply an illustration of the lack of media freedom and trouble with government controlled media. Thai media, freedom of speech, and freedom to information are under threat in Thailand. The government is robbing the Thai people of their rights and freedoms and is persecuting journalists who are trying to do their jobs.
Since my interview, I have had to resign from my position at MCOT because the government has placed substantial pressure on my coworkers and I do not want them to continue to work in fear of government reprisal.