Hasn’t the press enjoyed enough freedom? asks Thai junta leader on World Press Freedom Day

The Thai media has called on the Thai junta to abolish orders restricting freedom of the press while the junta leader scolded them for their demand, implying that the Thai media already enjoys enough freedom.  

According to Matichon Online, Wanchai Wongmeechai, chairman of the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), together with representatives from the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA), attempted to hand a statement to Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader and Prime Minister, at Government House on Tuesday, 3 May 2016, World Press Freedom Day.

The staff of the junta leader, however, did not allow them to do so. They therefore resorted to submitting the statement to the government’s petition office instead.

Greeted and asked by Gen Prayut what brought them to Government House, Wanchai told him that they were commemorating World Press Freedom Day by calling for media freedom.

The junta premier responded to Wanchai’s answer with “the freedom of the Thai media at present, isn’t it enough?”

When asked by the group if the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) could revoke NCPO Orders NO. 97 and 103 as these orders limit media freedom, Gen Prayut said that if such orders were revoked additional orders would have to be issued to replace them instead for the sake of national security and peace.

Earlier on the same day, the junta leader told a veteran journalist to watch herself when she told him that freedom of the press is the freedom of Thai citizens.

The joint statement of the TJA and TBJA urged the NCPO to revoke Orders No. 97/2014 and 103/2014 and Section 5 of NCPO Order No. 3/2015 and allow media and civil groups to express opinions freely.

Despite the fact that Article 4 of the Interim Charter imposed by the NCPO after the 2014 coup d’état stipulates that people shall enjoy freedom and liberties as stated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, journalists, politicians, and political dissidents are regularly harassed by the NCPO.

Many international human rights advocacy groups fear that human rights violations under the military regime will get worse in the run-up to the public referendum on the controversial junta-sponsored draft constitution.   

Last year, Reporters Without Borders downgraded Thailand from 130th place in 2014 to 134th place in 2015 on its world press freedom ranking.

Wanchai Wongmeechai, chairman of the Thai Journalist Association (TJA), exchanges words with Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader, at Government House on 3 May 2016 (Photo from TJA)