Thailand’s Military Coup Hits Media Activities

2nd UPDATE: TV channels replaced by military content, sections of Internet closed.

Thailand Coup Media Shut Down
Rufus Cox/Getty Images

The military coup in Thailand has dealt a direct blow to media and entertainment activities in the country. Sections of the Internet are also either closed or under threat.

The coup was announced Thursday afternoon local time after months of political stalemate between a caretaker government and opposition parties loyal to the monarchy which have called for complete overhaul of the political system. In control of the country is the new ‘Peace and Order Maintaining Command’ POMC.

All state and private-sector TV channels have had their on-air content replaced with a military channel that runs occasional army-sanctioned news.

Foreign channels, such as the BBC and CNN, are not currently available on Thailand’s cable networks, though their in-country journalists are able to file reports to their overseas news desks.

The Bangkok Post reported on Friday afternoon that five local TV channels (3, 5, 7, 9 and 11) would be allowed to resume broadcasting their own content from the evening. But the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission said that public broadcaster Thai PBS would remain off air.

TPBS on Thursday attempted to broadcast its own shows via YouTube. But it was subsequently shut down and its deputy director Wanchai Tantiwithayapitak was arrested.

Operators of the country’s Internet service providers were summoned on Friday morning (10.30 am local time, May 23) to meet the leaders of the coup. Directives were issued on Thursday to the NBTC requiring it to block sites that contain commentary about the coup that it deemed inappropriate.

Six sites were blocked on Thursday and the NBTC has asked the overseas-based social media operators Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Line to co-operate in monitor posts by users. It is not clear whether they are co-operating.

“This is to ask for cooperation to monitor content which may affect peace and order. THIS IS NOT CENSORSHIP AT ALL, but a blockade of only content or websites which may contravene to public morality and cause conflict and unrest and threat to national security,” said Thakonn Tanthasit, an NBTC commissioner [his caps] in a statement.

In another communique, the army warned social media networks that to avoid closure they should remove “distorted” content and any content “liable to cause misunderstandings or fuel conflict.”

Four Thai media associations — the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcasting Journalists Association, the National Press Council of Thailand and the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand — issued a joint statement asking the POMC to reconsider orders that they described as censorship. They also asked Thai journalists to be careful and responsible in their reporting of current affairs.

The POMC has imposed a temporary curfew that runs from 10pm to 5am. Bangkok’s Skytrain metropolitan railway now stops running at 9pm. That has forced people off the streets and will have a direct blow to entertainment industry activities.

Foreign governments, including the U.S. and several from Europe, have been quick to condemn the coup which saw leaders from both sides of the political divide put under house arrest after a second day of head to head meetings.

“After forcing TV stations to broadcast its press releases and saying it did not intend to seize power, the army is now trying to silence all criticism by suppressing independent reporting and unfavourable comments in the media and on the Internet. We call for the immediate end to these censorship policies and the lifting of all the repressive measures adopted since 20 May,” said said Benjamin Ismaïl, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Asia-Pacific desk.

It is the 12th time in a century that the army has moved to replace a government in Thailand.