Press Freedom – I’m Sorry, I Can’t Talk about That

by JW on October 22, 2009


Press freedom is down in Thailand again – the Kingdom is now ranked 130th out of 175 countries according to Reporters sans Frontières – it is the result of the censorship of thousands of websites and community radio stations, the willingness of the Abhisit regime to resort to ISA laws and states of emergency to suppress political dissent and the intimidating effects of the lese majeste laws. Still, at least we’re still above Singapore. As Bangkok Pundit (who seems to have nodded a couple of times recently) pointed out, there was a high point of 66th back in 2002. Where should Thailand be in the scheme of things? Well, there is a general presumption that economic growth is correlated with winning democratic privileges, personal liberties in terms of freedom of association and freedom of speech and so forth. On this presumption, Thailand should be approximately at the same level as its ranking in terms of overall economic development. In addition, bearing in mind that some countries with high economic growth still maintain authoritarian political regimes (notably China, of course but also some of the former Soviet nations), then Thailand should be slightly higher than its economy suggests. Of course, there is a need for people to be able to protect themselves from lies and malice reported in the media. For as long as I have been looking at the Thai media, it seems as if scarcely a week goes by without some slanderous allegation being made or another – allegations, for example, of attempted murder, conspiracy to murder, treason and plotting an armed coup (and these are just the comments of senior members of the cabinet). Clearly, these comments have the effect of potentially damaging the reputation of a person or an organization (the fact that the laws of libel in Thailand can be very draconian is not relevant to whether people should have recourse to them). Hence, it is perfectly right for people to challenge what is said about them, whether in error or from malice. Of course, that does not mean that a fair trial is guaranteed, as certain recent cases demonstrate. However, this is quite different from press freedom.

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