June 20, 2008
His Excellency Samak Sundaravej
Office of the Prime Minister
Royal Government of Thailand
Via facsimile: 011-662-629-8213
Dear Prime Minister Samak,
The Committee to Protect Journalists is gravely concerned by recent government moves that represent a clear and present danger to press freedom and media reform in Thailand.
We were especially alarmed to learn about a June 13 directive issued by Interior Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung to provincial governors nationwide to order local cable television operators to stop carrying privately run television station ASTV or face possible imprisonment.
The minister's directive, which was widely reported, represents a clear violation of the press freedom guarantees enshrined in Thailand's 2007 constitution.
Because your country's six main television stations remain under the control of the government or the military, ASTV now provides the only critical television news coverage of your government. That has included its recent live broadcasts of street protests in Bangkok, which made international news but were not featured prominently on government-controlled stations.
Our concern about the situation deepened on June 15, when unidentified assailants riding on a motorcycle hurled two explosive devices into the Bangkok offices of the Manager Media Group, which through holding companies also owns ASTV. Although nobody was hurt in the assault, we call upon your government to commission a thorough and independent investigation into the attack.
Interior Minister Chalerm's attempts on June 13 to censor ASTV follow on your office's announced plans in February of this year to establish a task force charged with monitoring the "news balance" of the broadcast media. Just as troubling are reports that your cabinet recently approved a bill for submission to parliament that aims to roll back previous television and radio reform plans. Those plans included a provision to allocate 20 percent of national radio frequencies to community radio broadcasters.
If passed into law, the proposed legislation will put more than 3,000 existing community radio stations on unsure legal footing. The proposed bill also aims to undermine the independence of the newly established National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) by placing the body's selection process under the authority of the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology.
As you are aware, the NBTC will have substantial powers to oversee and define the privatization of Thailand's broadcast media, including discretion over allocation of frequencies to individual private media groups. That is precisely why the previous constitution and enabling legislation included provisions that ensured the regulatory body's transparency and political neutrality.
Regrettably, these particular legal threats represent only one dimension of the growing harassment Thailand's media face under your democratically elected administration. Your government has launched investigations of more than 25 Web sites on charges they have violated your country's strict lese majeste laws, which restrict public criticism of the royal family and are punishable by up to 15 years in prison. BBC correspondent Jonathan Head is among those under investigation.
As an independent organization committed to upholding press freedom worldwide, CPJ restates our firm belief that your government still has a unique opportunity to re-establish Thailand's proud, but recently diminished, tradition of press freedom. Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We await your reply.