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Media groups on alert amid state of emergency in Bangkok

(SEAPA/IFEX) - Thai media associations are bracing against a government declaration of a state of emergency in Bangkok, saying certain aspects of the declaration could undermine press freedom, free expression, and access to information.

The Thai Journalists Association (TJA), a member of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), joined the Press Council of Thailand, the Confederation of Thai Journalists, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, and the Association of Thai Cable TV in warning the government against using the unfolding political crisis to justify restrictions on journalists.

In a joint statement, the Thai media groups said that "part of the declaration of the state of emergency - which is based on Article 9 of the 2005 State of Emergency Decree - allows the government to order the chief of a state of emergency committee to 'prohibit the reporting, selling and distribution of newspapers, publications and other media that may cause panic among the public or have the intention to misinform?'"

The groups said invoking this provision would "clearly violate the media's freedom to report, in accordance with the Article 45 of the Constitution."

Army commander-in-chief Gen. Anupong Paochinda, who was appointed chief enforcer of the emergency committee after the state of emergency had been declared, was on 2 September 2008 quoted in the website of the English-language daily "The Nation" ( http://www.nationmultimedia.com/ ) as saying that he had received "advice to control the media."

General Anupong said the current situation does not yet warrant such a measure. At the same time, however, he was quoted as saying that he is considering meting out sanctions on two television stations - the state-run National Broadcasting Television (NBT), and the privately-owned ASTV, whose managers have ties to the anti-government movement led by the People's Alliance for Democracy - for "one-sided reporting" that he said could potentially aggravate the crisis. Pressed on that statement, the general assured that the measures he is considering do not include shutting down the two TV stations. He refused to give further details.

Meanwhile, the Thai media associations called on their members and all Thai journalists to uphold the highest standards of ethics and professionalism and independence from any political agenda. The groups had earlier rejected calls by both government and anti-government personalities to choose sides and lay bare loyalties. The Thai media groups said that only in "adhering to professional ethics, by reporting in a comprehensive manner without being influenced by any party, can the media allow the people to make the right judgment on the current political situation."

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