Thailand has been ranked 136th in Reporters Without Borders (RSF)’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, four places above its 2018 ranking, but is still classified as being in a “difficult situation.”
According to RSF, the Index, which evaluated the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories across the world, shows that “an intense climate of fear has been triggered — one that is prejudicial to a safe reporting environment” and that the number of countries where journalists can work in complete security continues to decline while authoritarian regimes continue to suppress the press in many countries.
Only 24% of the 180 countries and territories are classified as “good” or “fairly good”, as opposed to 26% last year, while 37% are classified as being in a “problematic situation.” 29% are classified as being in a “difficult situation” and 11% as in a “very serious situation.” RSF also reported that threats, insults, and attacks are now among the “occupational hazards” for journalists in many countries, and that in many places, “the level of violence used to persecute journalists who aggravate authorities no longer seems to know any limits,” causing many journalists to censor themselves or stop writing altogether. Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October, and in Slovakia, investigative journalist Ján Kuciak was murdered along with his fiancée Martina Kušnírová in February 2018.
In Asia Pacific, RSF reported that, “with totalitarian propaganda, censorship, intimidation, physical violence and cyber-harassment, [the region] continues to exhibit all of the problems that can beset journalism and, with a virtually unchanged regional score, continues to rank third from last”. The region is also facing “waves of disinformation” which is “helping to erode democracy throughout the region, and press freedom with it”.
While Thailand is now ranked 136th, four places above its 2018 ranking, it is still classified as being in a “difficult situation”. The RSF report also says that “the Chinese system of total news control is increasingly serving as a model for other anti-democratic regimes” such as Singapore, Brunei, and Thailand.
The RSF website page on Thailand says that, for the past five years, the junta “has constantly hounded outspoken journalists, summoning them for questioning, detaining them arbitrarily and driving at least ten of them to flee the country. Any criticism of the junta is liable to lead to violent reprisals made possible by draconian legislation and a justice system that follows orders.” Dissident journalists and bloggers face the threat of the cyber-security law adopted in February 2019 and of the lèse-majesté charge which carries a possible 15-year prison sentence.
RSF reported that "the opposition TV channel Voice TV was simply shut down for the duration of the election campaign". However, while there was indeed a 15-day suspension order for Voice TV, issued by the national broadcasting regulator on 12 February 2019, the suspension only lasted for about 3 days, as Voice TV's executives took the case to the Administrative Court, which subsequently ruled the suspension order to be invalid.
Read more on Voice TV's suspension during the election campaigns:
RSF also noted that "the authorities...behave in a very indulgent manner towards certain regimes: Chinese and Vietnamese operatives have been allowed to arrest dissident exile journalists or bloggers from their country in order to “repatriate” and then jail them.”
“If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.”