There is an information war on in Thailand. Beyond the martial law and the coup d'etat that the military had declared, there is censorship. The military shut down cable, radio stations, and some TV stations and instructed those on social media to be very careful
-- all before declaring a coup.
So little is being reported in Thailand these days when it comes to political news. Army Chief Prayuth Chan-Ocha demanded public TV channels only show news from military-approved sources. Re-runs of military announcements are what many Thais are seeing
on their TVs, day after day. The lack of news is frightening at a time when people are hungry for news. While most Thais are used to curfew -- there have been so many in this past decade alone -- having some sense of what is happening in their
country could help ease the minds of Thais who have been ordered to stay at home. And they have a right to know what is happening in their country.
Although martial law is normally accompanied by restrictions on speech and media freedom, the military was very cautious this time around. Unlike the last coup in 2006, the men in uniform made strong and explicit statements to both the traditional and
new media producers and consumers to be careful how they behave. Media and ISP executives were summoned to meetings and warned repeatedly over social media to avoid improper conduct.
Of the 19 official statements made by the newly-formed National Peace and Order Maintaining Council, six specifically target the flow of information and news. The military says that it must control TV, radio stations and the Internet as a way to ensure
that truthful and correct information is disseminated to the population. The Council is reportedly most worried about social media communication, where they have the least direct control and they have openly expressed concern that
non-censored information flows could pose further challenges to the military rule and the state on the whole.
One statement from the Council demands that Internet service providers monitor online networks and rub out information that could breed disorder in the country. The statement reads:
In order to disseminate proper Internet news to the population -- void of manipulation that could create misunderstanding or conflict@Internet providers must:
monitor and stop any information dissemination that could breed disorder within the Kingdom or would negatively impact the stability of the state and the morale of the people
be summoned for a meeting at the Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission.
What is the military afraid of? Much anxiety is being driven by the threat of propaganda to elicit violence by ill-intent individuals. The military believes there are underground groups in Thailand determined to wreak havoc on the country.
They worry that unless they control and centralize the dissemination of information, they will not win this battle. It's not just the battle between the Shinawatra and the Rest, but rather between the state and its subversives.
Since martial law was imposed, security forces have begun arresting individuals suspected of subversive behavior and turned up reportedly military-grade weapons. Some of these were believed to have belonged to individuals with ties to the warring protest
Is the military takeover of the media warranted? The coup in 2006, while the military imposed certain restrictions on media freedom, it did not result in this level of information lockdown. Many of the commercial TV channels in Thailand were hardly
political: they mostly showed soap operas, game shows and music videos. Perhaps the near ban on media is meant to function as a sweeping act of fear-mongering. Or perhaps the military believes it will help suppress the voices of its opposition.
Thailand's Ministry of Information and Communication Technology (MICT) officials called for greater support in their efforts to censor supposedly inappropriate online content.
Piyakhun Nopphakhun, of the Crime Suppression Division of MICT claimed that:
Even though the military has taken over, they have not commanded us about what to do.
This rather begs the question as to why then is the group looking to ratchet up internet censorship.
Since the coup began, the Royal Thai Army has ordered ISPs to monitor online content that might lead to unrest, asked social media companies to prevent the spread of provocative messages and barred media from presenting news critical of the junta.
Piyakhun then ludicrously claimed that he believed that recent efforts by the Ministry to curb online content were not political in nature. But then he acknowledged that efforts to curb online content could be seen to violate rights.
This is not because of the coup, it is very normal practice. But I agree that the coup will have some effect. They (the Royal Thai Army) will put more people into helping fight the websites. Some people may ask about freedom of expression. I have to say
that it will actually affect (this).
Piyakhun is keen to speed up the censorship process. He explained:
It takes about a week to block a website. One or two days to gather evidence. One or two days to get permission from MICT. One or two days to go to court. One or two days to distribute court orders to ISPs. One week is too slow.
At the moment everything is on paper. You have to print it out, present the evidence to the Ministers and the courts, and you have to present papers to the ISPs. If documents are not signed, we have to wait even longer. Computer officials have to
physically travel to the courts to receive court orders.
At the moment we are in the process of getting approval to distribute court orders to the ISPs electronically. We are going to appoint one representative ISP to distribute these court orders to the other ISPs, because that representative would know which
ISPs are active.
Technically, it is going to be very easy. But legally, is the only question. Are there any laws, regulations that allow us to do this legally? Do we really need to be present in court to present evidence?
The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) has condemned the Norway-based mobile operator Total Access Communication (DTAC) and asked it to clarify a company statement regarding an order by the internet censor to block Facebook.
Telenor of Norway, which owns DTAC, this week claimed online that Telenor Group confirmed that on May 28, DTAC received notification from the NBTC at 3pm that it must temporarily restrict access to Facebook. The restriction, which was implemented at
3.35pm, affected DTAC's 10 million Facebook-using customers. Telenor said it believed in open communication and regretted any consequences this might have had for the people of Thailand. Access to Facebook was restored at about 4.30pm, according to
But the Thai authorities weakly claimed the Facebook blackout was due to technical glitches and not purposely blocked. Colonel Settapong Malisuwan, chairman of the NBTC's telecom committee flannelled:
DTAC's statement has caused extensive damage to the regulator's image. We want the company to take responsibility by clarifying exactly who ordered Facebook to be blocked.
Thailand's military junta, the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), announced on 25 June that it is creating panels to control media content and to prevent the media from being use to spread false information that could incite hatred and violence
against the monarchy.
The junta said each media sector: radio, TV, print media, online media, social networks and foreign media, will be monitored by a different panel and each panel will have representatives from the police, army, navy, air force, foreign ministry, prime
minister's office, public relations department and other state bodies.
Criminal proceedings may be brought against media that broadcast content that the junta does not like. The panels will prepare regular reports for Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, the head of the junta, while reporting cases of false information to him
Benjamin Ismael, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk said:
The creation of these panels constitutes a new stage in the gagging of news and information by the Thai military junta. Is the junta in the process of creating a system of censorship based on the former Burmese model?
The composition of the panels and complete absence of media representatives suggest a level of freedom approaching zero. No details have been given on how the panels will operate. Reporters Without Borders urges the NCPO to abandon this plan altogether
as it could introduce an unprecedented degree of censorship in Thailand.
Thailand's censorship regime has grown ever more pervasive since the military took over last month, with punishments aimed at both speakers and consumers of prohibited media.
According to the regime's own reports, hundreds of new websites have been added to the Thai government's official blacklist including politics and news sites covering the coup. Now the authorities are deceiving Internet users into disclosing their
personal details, including email addresses and Facebook profile information, when they try to visit these prohibited sites.
Under Thailand's national web blocking infrastructure, Net users attempting to visit blocked sites in Thailand are redirected to a government web landing page, managed by the country's Technology Crime Suppression Division (TCSD).
After the coup, the Thai Netizen Network, a local digital rights group, noticed that the TCSD block page had sprouted two new graphics: a blue close button, and a Login with Facebook icon. Both lead to what appears to be a Facebook Login page, where
users are asked for permission to hand over personal information stored in their Facebook profile --- without any indication, in Thai or English, of where that data was being sent, or for what purpose. In fact, the Login app was being run by TCSD itself,
which used Facebook's application platform to collect the details of Facebook users visiting to the landing page.
Thai authorities have long claimed that foreign companies should comply with all their demands for removing content and handing over personal data. Facebook has consistently refused such requests. By misleading users to click through the
permissions-granting first page of its Facebook application, Thai authorities have been gathering the type of user information that Facebook's legal department has long refused to hand over.
removed shortly after the Thai Netizen Network published details of its deceptive appearance. An identical app which subsequently replaced it on the page was suspended by Facebook after less than a week of operation.
Facebook's own public app statistics pages show that these two apps managed to scoop up hundreds of Thai email addresses before being shut down. Did these Internet users understand that they were handing over their names and email addresses as potential
witnesses to future prosecutions?
Thailand's military dictators have allowed 12 banned satellite channels to resume broadcasting. The channels have been off the air since the May 22 coup. However the channels have been forced to sign a declaration to not air political news.
Some of the channels are well-known political-oriented satellite stations, such as the yellow-shirt ASTV, Democrat Party-backed Blue Sky and red-shirt Asia Update, said they were satisfied by the terms and conditions laid down by the junta.
Most of them even agreed to change their name in a move to end memories about previous political stances.
The channels allowed to start broadcasting also include MV5, DNN, UDD, P&P, 4 Channel, FMTV, Hot TV, Rescue TV and Student and People Network for Reforming Thailand Channel.
ASTV, which will now be known as News TV, still plans to focus intensely on news, albeit now censored.
The broadcasting committee of the National Broadcasting and Telecom-munications Commission announced conditions for the 12 satellite TV channels to apply for a new licence to resume broadcasting next week. The channels will need to apply for a new
licence as Pay TV and comply with the NCPO's condition that they would broadcast no content that affects national security and the social divide by signing a memorandum of understand with the NBTC.
Thailand's internet freedom has slipped from partly free last year to not free this year, placing it among the ranks of China, Vietnam, Iran and Libya in that category, according to the latest annual report by Freedom House. The report
After the coup, the NCPO [National Council for Peace and Order] made dozens of arrests, stepped up digital surveillance, infringed on online privacy and create a climate of fear where Internet users conducted an on and offline witch hunt against fellow
Freedom House noted that charges of lese majeste and computer-related crimes brought by Internet users against fellow citizens increased along with political detention:
In the month after the coup, there were at least five cases of a lese majeste charge added when an individual was already in detention. Three notable ones involved digital content.
Even those who use the Internet anonymously have come under threat since the May 22 coup, the organisation noted:
In late May, the MICT reportedly proposed to establish a single national gateway to the International Internet to expedite monitoring and censorship online content that is deemed illegal. Reports in June 2014 said MICT officials were consulting with
vendors to implement plans, which would require every Thai citizen to authenticate their identity using their smart ID cards before logging onto the Internet.
The Thai Ministry of Culture aims to promote propaganda featuring the junta's controversial 12 Thai
values by publishing books of fables.
Nuntiya Swangvudthitham, Director-General of the Department of Culture Promotion (DCP), under the Ministry of Culture responsible for preserving and promoting Thai values , revealed that the DCP will publish books of moral fables to promote
the junta's 12 Thai values as new year 'gifts' for the nation's youth.
The junta's controversial 12 Thai values were prompted by Prayut Chan-o-cha, the junta leader, shortly after the coup in May 2014 to promote what he claimed as the intrinsic national values of Thai people. The values include loving the nation, religions,
and monarchy, having discipline and respect for the law and elders, and of course, possessing the 'correct' understanding of democracy with the monarchy as head of the state.
Last year, the Ministry of Education (MOE) came up with a similar plan to promote the junta's values by implementing the so called Merit Passport, a notebook where each student keeps a daily record of their behaviour, attitudes, and activities,
from grade one to grade nine. If implemented, the Merit Passport would become an important criterion in the competitive university admissions procedure nationwide.
The DCP announced that the books of fables will be distributed nationwide through the Culture Council Association of Thailand, the Chalermraja Cultural Centre, and over 7,000 schools nationwide.
After eleven months, the Thailand government finally lifted martial law in the country on April 1, 2015; but it quickly signed a new security law which some human rights groups described as even more repressive.
Thailand's army launched a coup last May, purportedly to end the street clashes between opposition and pro-government forces. It imposed martial law, controlled the newsrooms of major media stations, and banned political gatherings. An interim
constitution was drafted which led to the establishment of a military-backed civilian government led by General Prayuth Chan-ocha. The new government is known as the 'National Council of Peace and Order'. But martial law remained in effect despite the
appointment of civilian authorities.
Invoking article 44 of the interim constitution, Prayuth signed Order Number 3/2558 (3/2015) which repealed martial law but imposed harsher security measures across the country. The new order provides for the appointment of 'peace and order
maintenance officers' from the ranks of the military who are delegated with sweeping powers to defend the security of the state. These army personnel can search homes, summon and arrest troublemakers, confiscate properties, and detain suspected
individuals in special premises for up to seven days even without judicial authority.
Freedom of assembly is still curtailed as stated in article 12 of the order which bans political gatherings of five or more persons.
The order is also a threat to free speech. Article 5 of the order could be used to stifle dissent. The provision reads:
Peacekeeping Officers are empowered to issue orders prohibiting the propagation of any item of news or the sale or distribution of any book or publication or material likely to cause public alarm or which contains false information likely to cause public
misunderstanding to the detriment of national security or public order. (Unofficial translation by iLaw, the Freedom of Expression Documentation Center)
Reacting to this provision, the country's media giants represented by the Thai Journalists Association, National Press Council of Thailand, Thai Broadcasting Journalists Association, and News Broadcasting Council of Thailand banded together and issued a
statement which criticized the article as the greater threat to press freedom and freedom of expression than the lifted Martial Law."
They urged the NCPO to clarify the intent of the article and provide a more specific definition of 'national security threat' and 'dissemination of false information':
Without any clear definition of national security threat, cause of public alarm and dissemination of false information, the authorities might over-exercise or abuse their power, which is very contradicting to the NCPO order.
They also warned that this particular provision would affect millions of Internet users:
Civilians are also at risk, as people who communicates and discusses topics through online social media that contain information viewed by the authorities as threat to national security, cause of public alarm, spreading of false information or public
misunderstanding will be punished on the same condition.
Referring to the same article, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance asked:
What is the criteria for determining if the content in question 'causes alarm' or is 'false information likely to cause public misunderstanding'? If the content in question is true and factual, can truth be a defense against such a prohibition?
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein was more direct when he assailed the NCPO's new order as a measure that would 'annihilate freedom of expression' in Thailand. He added:
Normally I would warmly welcome the lifting of martial law, but I am alarmed at the decision to replace martial law with something even more draconian, which bestows unlimited powers on the current Prime Minister without any judicial oversight at all.
News about the lifting of martial law in Thailand was initially met with skepticism since it was announced on April Fools' Day. But the Thai junta was clearly not joking when it passed a more brutal law to replace martial law.
Thailand's military dictators are rewriting the country's constitution to give the government greater powers to censor the media.
In addition to the ability to censor the press during times of war - a power granted in the 2007 constitution - the military rulers now plans to give the state the ability to block news during political crises and other unusual situations , such
as during the mass street protests that lead to 2014's military coup.
A Constitution Drafting Committee spokesman Udom Rathamarit said that the committee agreed that the government should have such censorship powers following the imposition of an emergency decree or under martial law:
When the country is facing an abnormal situation, the mass media should be cooperative. Otherwise, it can be difficult to set rules and disorder can break out. In normal times, we protect (the media's) work.
Acknowledging the potential for abuse of the new censorship powers, the CDC spokesman claimed that the panel will set good criteria to ensure that doesn't happen.
Update: Military dictators realise that they have the censorship power already
Constitutional drafters have dropped a plan to give the government additional powers to censor the media during political crises following an outcry from the press.
Constitution Drafting Committee spokesman Chartchai Na Chiang Mai said that the panel backed off its intention to add language to new charter allowing authorities to block during unusual situations , such as during the mass street protests that
led to 2014's military coup.
Chartchai said panellists decided that the executive or emergency decrees issued during such times generally have included provisions allowing for government media censorship. The military also has the same power under martial law, he added.
As such, including the censorship language in the new constitution would be redundant.
The Economist magazine won't distribute its next issue in Thailand, according to a note sent Friday to
The periodical, which over the years has been censored and withheld in Thailand, said its July 23 edition would not be available, presumably due to an article about Thailand's monarchy and its military government. The magazine wrote:
Due to sensitive content in this week's issue and the resulting potential risk to our distributors, we will not be distributing the July 23rd 2016 print edition of The Economist in Thailand.