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Thailand’s Prime Minister Doubles Down on Media Censorship

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Thailand’s Prime Minister has has doubled down on news media censorship telling authorities to take no chances over scrutiny of broadcast and online content. News media content that could be deemed to violate his emergency decree. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s move came on the day the Criminal Court ordered that Voice TV’s online content to be blocked.

Speaking to reporters after a meeting of his cabinet, Gen Prayut he ordered authorities to respect the freedom of the press. But on the other hand take legal action against news media outlets that spread false information and fake news that violated other people’s rights. He didn’t elaborate on the news media outlets or the alleged violations.

“We are duty-bound to protect the country and eliminate ill-intentioned actions. Intentions aimed at creating chaos and conflict in the country,” Gen Prayut declared.

He did pay tribute to pro-government media outlets who had played a crucial role in creating constructive change in society. Saying those who conducted their work impartially had made a substantial contribution to the country.

Violating Press Freedom in Thailand

Several local media outlets warned the government on Monday not to violate the freedom of the press. Especially after reports emerged that five online media organizations faced legal action for breaching his emergency decree.

They included the National Press Council of Thailand; the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand; the Thai Journalists Association; the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association; Online News Providers Association and the National Union of Journalists Thailand.

The groups spoke out after the leaking of an order issued by the government’s joint Centre for the Resolution of the Emergency Situation (CRES) for the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) and the Digital Economy and Society (DES) Ministry.

That order followed an examination of news media content deemed to be a threat to national security.

The order said: “It appears there are television broadcasts of content deemed to threaten national security or good morals by presenting certain content from Voice TV, Prachatai.com, The Reporters, The Standard and also the Free Youth movement.”

Blocking Telegram messaging app

According to the Bangkok Post the government is also said to have been planning to block the Telegram messaging app. Anti-government protesters flocked Telegram App after police moved to shut down Facebook accounts.

The Criminal Court on Tuesday ordered the blockage of all of Voice TV’s online content as requested by the DES Ministry. According to the ministry deputy permanent secretary, Putchapong Nodthaisong, that content was not blocked immediately after the court order. However, because DES representatives first need to explain to the court today precisely how it plans to block the content.

The court has yet to issue orders for the other four news outlets mentioned in the leaked order: Prachatai.com; The Reporters; The Standard; and the Free Youth movement.

Voice TV, a multi-platform news network owned by the family of former prime ministers Thaksin and Yingluck Shinawatra, broadcasts on satellite TV. Also on a website, Facebook and YouTube.

Silencing News Media in Thailand

Mr Putchapong said the ministry found the news outlet had posted false information in violation of the Computer Crime Act and Gen.Prayut’s emergency decree. Stating that ruling cannot be appealed.

Voice TV CEO Mekin Petchplai later released a statement saying he had yet to see the order. He also said the station would continue operating in the meantime.

Even more he insisted Voice TV had conducted its work ethically. Voice TV never publishing any distorted information that could have created misunderstandings. Even more they never undermined national security or public order.

While Voice TV’s websites — or certain programs — can be blocked immediately by local ISPs and mobile phone operators, it remains to be seen whether Facebook and YouTube will comply with the order to block the contentious content, and if so, when.

Blocking something in social media, however, is easier said than done. Because of the ease of opening a new account and the proliferation of virtual private networks. VPN’s mask the internet protocol (IP) address of a user, also rendering online actions virtually untraceable.

Mr Putchapong admitted Voice TV could simply open new Facebook or YouTube accounts to circumvent the ban.

However, he also warned that if they continued to spread fake news they would be closed again.

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