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STATE OF EMERGENCY WILL ESCALATE TENSIONS, THAI MEDIA ASSOCIATIONS WARN

The Thai Journalists Association (TJA) and other local press freedom groups are warning the Thai government against using the current state of emergency to justify restrictions on journalists.

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej declared a state of emergency on 2 September in Bangkok, after clashes between government and opposition groups left at least one person dead and more than 40 injured.

Army commander Anupong Paochinda now has special powers to impose restrictions on media reports that could "undermine public security".

In a joint statement, the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), the Press Council of Thailand, the Confederation of Thai Journalists, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and the Association of Thai Cable TV said that invoking this provision would "clearly violate the media's freedom to report" as laid out in the Constitution.

The move "seems single-handedly aimed at restricting the rights and liberties of the Thai people," the groups said.

General Anupong said he was considering taking action against two television stations, the state-run National Broadcasting Television (NBT) and the privately-owned ASTV for "one-sided reporting" that he said could potentially aggravate the crisis. The managers of ASTV have ties to the anti-government movement led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD).

Meanwhile, on the back of Samak's emergency declaration, Thailand's Information and Communications Technology Ministry has sought court orders to shut down about 400 websites - the majority of which carried material disrespectful to Thailand's royal family, reports the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA). The ministry also advised Internet service providers to block 1,200 sites considered to be either a danger to national security or a disturbance to social order.

In a move that will throw Thailand into even more turmoil and uncertainty, on 9 September a Thai court ordered Samak to resign after finding that he had violated the Constitution by getting paid to host a cooking show while in office. Samak has no option but to step down immediately, although his party said it would vote him back into the job.

The crisis began on 26 August, when thousands of PAD supporters took to the streets of Bangkok and forced their way into government buildings, including the NBT, calling for Samak to resign. PAD says the government is a front for former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whom PAD was instrumental in ourting in a coup in 2006.

In response, Samak has threatened news media that did not support him, and demanded that journalists abandon their neutrality and condemn the "agitators".

The Thai media associations pronounced, "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."

Visit these links:
- Thai media groups' statement: http://tinyurl.com/5jq5es
- SEAPA: http://www.seapabkk.org/
- Reporters Without Borders: http://tinyurl.com/56mvq7
- IFEX Thailand page: http://tinyurl.com/5hocu9
(10 September 2008)

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