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Violation of public's right to information under state of emergency will only escalate tensions, warns TJA, other journalists' groups

(TJA/IFEX) - The following is a 2 September 2008 press release issued by TJA and several other Thai media organisations:

A Joint Statement by Organisations of Media Professionals on the Government's Declaration of a State of Emergency

We refer to Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej's declaration on the enforcement of the Royal Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations (2005) which imposes many restrictions on civil rights and liberties that are guaranteed under the 2007 Constitution.

We, the Press Council of Thailand, the Confederation of Thai Journalists, the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and the Association of Thai Cable TV held a meeting and came to the following conclusions:

1. The groups of media professionals disagree with the prime minister's action because the 2005 Royal Decree is not being applied in accordance with the principles of the rule of law and it includes contents that clearly contradict provisions outlined in the current Constitution. In addition, the process in which the royal decree is being applied is considered to be unusual and single-handedly aimed at restricting the rights and liberties of the Thai people.

2. Although the 2005 decree authorises a prime minister to declare a state of emergency, the rationale and background behind the prime minister's decision are far from reasonable. As it stands now, the clashes between pro and anti-government demonstrators have been suppressed and the authorities have gained control of the situation. Therefore, the declaration of a state of emergency is unnecessary and should be revoked immediately.

3. It is evident to the media personnel who witnessed the incident on the night of September 1, and from the press statement released by a deputy government spokesman, that key leaders of the pro-government demonstrators from the Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship, as well as some ministers from the governing People Power Party, have played an important role in inciting pro-government protesters to use violence against the anti-government demonstrators of the People's Alliance for Democracy, which resulted in the loss of life and property. This action is clearly an attempt to inflame the situation and use it as a pretext to declare the state of emergency.

We, therefore, condemn this action.

4. Part of the contents in the declaration of the state of emergency (based on Article 9 of the 2005 decree) say the government is authorised to order a chief of a state of emergency committee to "prohibit the reporting, selling and distribution of newspapers, publications and other forms of media that may cause panic in the public or have the intention to misinform such that they may cause the public to misunderstand the state of emergency to the effect that it threatens national security, or law and order, and/or the good morale of the people". This restriction clearly violates the media's freedom to inform in accordance with Article 45 of the Constitution.

In addition, the declaration of a state of emergency also violates the public's right to information, which could lead to an escalation of the situation as has been the case in many incidents in the past history of Thai politics during which the media was stripped of their right to inform.

5. We urge all sides to exercise tolerance and avoid either using violence in any form or trying to incite citizens to use violence against each other, either by means of statements issued by the prime minister and bureaucrats concerned, by announcements made by the demonstration leaders or by the use of state media as a tool to promote the government's agenda.

6. In the critical stages of the conflicts that lead to the declaration of a state of emergency, in which the power to suppress a disturbance is passed on to the army, we urge the army chief to exercise power with great caution, not to use it as a tool of any group or exploit the situation to stage a coup d'etat in order to seize power. Past lessons demonstrate that a coup cannot address the issues behind conflicts but rather serve only to worsen them.

We are confident that this national emergency can still be resolved through a peaceful process, especially now that several civil society groups have stepped in and are vigorously trying to find a way out of the political crisis. All media organisations have a duty to report the facts of the situation and should, therefore, strictly adhere to their professional ethics by reporting in a comprehensive manner, without being influenced by any party. Only then will citizens be able to correctly judge the current political situation.

Press Council of Thailand
Confederation of Thai Journalists
Thai Journalists Association
Thai Broadcast Journalists Association
Association of Thai Cable TV

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