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Press freedom in Thailand is on the wane

According to this year's Reporters without Borders press freedom index, Thailand is down from place 130 in 2009 to 153 out of 178 nations. The government has been using an emergency decree to target opposition media.

The government has clamped down on the oppposition media

The government has clamped down on the oppposition media

Ever since dozens were killed and hundreds injured in May, in the worst political violence seen in Thailand for decades, the government has said it is in favor of national reconciliation. Yet, an emergency decree remains in force and the pro-opposition media have been targeted.

"This allows the government to just shut down any website or any radio station or television without the proper use of law," Supinya Klangnarong, a respected media rights advocate in Thailand, who is currently vice-chair of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, told Deutsche Welle.

"The government doesn't want to allow the opposition to exercise or express much because it is worried this could lead to another chaotic situation."

Media reform activist Supinya Klangarong calls for open dialogue

Media reform activist Supinya Klangarong calls for open dialogue

Deeply divided nation

"Thailand is a deeply divided nation," Supinya Klangnarong points out.

The political conflict between the "red-shirted" poor, both urban and rural, and the "yellow-shirted" urban elites, which includes the royalists, bureaucrats and military top brass is becoming more entrenched.

The young activist, who shot to fame in 2006 when she publicly challenged the then Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, describes a silent majority caught between two increasingly passionate groups without means of finding a voice.

She advocates a more open atmosphere where people can discuss their different points of view and has urged the government to make its criteria for what can or cannot be said clearer.

Media should encourage open dialogue

Moreover, she has called on certain parts of the media to be less partisan, pointing out that 90 percent of Thais rely on broadcast media rather than the Internet, which is difficult to access, for information.

"If the mass media did their job," she says, "if they called the right agenda against the government, questioning the rule of law and also raising different voices and ideas, this would help shape the future of Thai politics in a proper way.

"There are some 8,000 unlicensed community radios in Thailand, as well as hundreds of cable and satellite television stations. The 2008 Printing Act allowed print media to publish anything, but the emergency decree has been used to censor opposition media without transparency or accountability."

In May, Thailand witnessed its worst political violence in contemporary history

In May, Thailand witnessed its worst political violence in contemporary history

She also suggests that the partisan media engage in more peaceful dialogue, to avoid drawing negative attention.

Behind-the-scenes role of the monarchy

Some analysts argue that the confusion around King Bhumibol's succession is also hindering national reconciliation in Thailand.

Although the 82-year-old monarch is popular, his son and presumed heir Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn is not considered capable of bridging the political divide.

Supinya Klangnarong thinks it is hard to gauge how important the monarchy's behind-the-scenes role really is.

"The role of the monarchy is supposed not to be connected with the government or any political groups but it would seem that different sides have been politicizing the issue and the laws related to lese majeste are being used by the government to silence critics or dissidents," she explains.

"We do not have a clue about how this can be solved because it's a really serious and sensitive issue, which people do not dare talk about in public."

Unpredictability of Thai politics

Even elections, which are due next year, might not resolve the situation in Thailand. Observers say that the Pheu Thai Party, the third reincarnation of a party founded by Thaksin Shinawatra, could well win, angering the "Yellows" and many in the military, which reportedly is also divided. More protests or even a military coup could be possible.

me fear next year's elections could lead to more clashes or even a military coup

Some fear next year's elections could lead to more clashes or even a military coup

Supinya could not forecast whether the polls would go ahead at all: "Honestly, I really believe we will see them happen, but I'm also worried that they could be delayed for whatever reason.

"There are so many rumors in Thai politics that you really cannot predict anything."

Author: Anne Thomas
Editor: Arun Chowdhury

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