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Thailand's media must remain a free channel of information

Anti-government protesters flee as riot policemen use a water cannon during clashes near the metropolitan police headquarters in Bangkok, 2 December 2013
Anti-government protesters flee as riot policemen use a water cannon during clashes near the metropolitan police headquarters in Bangkok, 2 December 2013

REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is deeply disturbed by the 2 December 2013 call by the leader of anti-government protesters, Suthep Thaugsuban, to six free television stations to stop broadcasting news and information from the government, but to air only statements by the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) to avoid public confusion over the current political situation.

We see Suthep's call as a grave threat to freedom of speech and freedom of the media, which is guaranteed under the current 2007 Constitution and is in keeping with the country's international human rights obligations.

Suthep is directly calling on the media to turn their backs on their basic duty to maintain professionalism in order to keep the public constantly informed and channel diverse political views. Such duty is crucial in the context of the current political crisis and the extremely fluid situation.

Suthep's speech at the Government Complex at 4:30 p.m. was broadcast live on Channels 3, 5, 7 and the Thai Public Broadcasting Service (TPBS). Channel 9, which is a state-owned enterprise reported the address briefly; while Channel 11, which is run by the government's Public Relations Department aired another program during Suthep's speech this afternoon.

The call followed a march of anti-government protesters to all TV stations earlier today to pressure them to relay the signal of the Blue Sky Channel, a pro-Democrat party station broadcasting the protest live.

Separate negotiations with station executives resulted in some agreeing to give more air time to the BlueSky broadcast. TPBS issued a statement upholding its professional practice to keep the public informed of news and information from all sides.

SEAPA supports the joint statement of the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) and the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA) issued on 2 December, urging all journalists – whether from state or privately-owned media – to keep their utmost professionalism in reporting the current political conflict and not to be influenced by any groups.

SEAPA urges both protesters and the government to stop coercing the media to report in their favor. It is already a tremendous challenge, especially for local media who are also citizens, to report fairly during political crises, and keeping all media channels free from interference is the best way for the entire media to fulfill this duty.

At the same time, SEAPA calls upon all the mainstream and online media to report the situation in a balanced and professional manner and not to provoke the situation or misinform the public. The duty of media in this time of crisis is to faithfully report events as they unfold, in order to keep the public informed and to enable them to act freely according to their conscience. This duty of the media is sworn to the public, and not to media owners or pressure groups of any political persuasion.

Finally, we call upon all sides to refrain from fomenting hate speech and manufacturing distorted information, which could only do more harm than good to Thailand and its people, whose interests all sides seek to protect and advance.

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