Sunday, June 13, 2010

Jon Unphakorn on the Thai Press coverage and Prachatai

Jon Ungphakorn, former senator and Magsaysay award, speaks about freedom of the Press in Thailand and about Prachatai website.

Jon Unphakorn is the founder of the Prachatai information website. He is now no more directly involved with the website.

Question : What kind of troubles and annoyances Prachatai is getting from Abhisit Vejjajiva's government ?

Jon Ungphakorn : Prachatai has had many problems, not just during the present Abhisit's government, but ever since the military coup d'Etat in 2006. After that there has been several cases where the police asked Prachatai for information about people who posted on the web board of Prachathai.
At present, the manager of Prachatai, Jiranuth Premchaiporn, is being charged and the case has been sent to court under the computer crimes act. She is charged with allowing content on the web board which endangers national security or causes undue alarm or is libelous material. This is because she was in charge of screening the postings on the web board, but there were so many postings that the one she is charged with, she did not noticed. It was on the web board only a few days, then it was removed. But she has been charged for having that material on the web board of Prachatai.
More recently, there is another case where the police in the provinces in the North-East are investigating an article which appeared in Prachatai whether it contains materials which is lèse majesté ; a complain against this Prachatai's article.
So Prachatai is having problems regarding freedom of expression ever since the 2006 coup. But it has never before being officially blocked. But during the recent events in Thailand with the demonstrations of the Red shirts and using the emergency decree that the government announced, Prachatai was listed as one of the website that had to be blocked.
This is despite the fact that Prachatai does not belong to any political group and is an independent media which published all kinds of opinions. It does not censor people people according to their opinion.
It was blocked together with a number of medias that belong to the Red shirts side, the UDD medias. So it was an independent media which is, of course, critical of many governments ; its role is to act as a watchdog on medias freedom and a watch dog on human rights and so on. It has always been critical of any government. But for the first time, it has been blocked by the Abhisit's government.

Question : We know that Thai TV channels are controlled by the government or the military, but concerning the written thai press, i would like to get your opinion about the quality of coverage by the Thai newspapers and magazines ?

Jon Ungphakorn : Most of the mainstream medias are owned by people who would be against the Red side. So most of the mainstream medias tend to be more pro-government than to be pro-Red. And many of the medias are so anti-Thaksin and anti-Red that they do not question the government use of the emergency or even the role of the government in the large number of deaths among the demonstrators during the recent violence.
The one newspaper group that i think is doing quite a good job of questionning the government, showing videos that give a different perspective from that of the government is the Matichon Group. They are starting to uncover many facts that the government does not like. And they have been criticized by the Democrat Party's spokesman for being biased.
On the other hand there are some newspapers like Thai Post which is very anti-Thaksin, which have been even trying to persuade the government to take a very hard line against the Reds all the time, almost inciting the government to use violence against the Red side or at least to get rid of the demonstrations as soon as possible.
On the whole i would say that the mainstream medias sympathize more with the government, but that the Matichon Group is showing some independence in this respect.

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