For the Media, Caution Aheadby Johanna ( )
By Pravit Rojanaphruk
BANGKOK - Despite the seemingly wide acceptance of the Thai public, especially the urban middle classes and old elites, of the Sep. 19 coup, there is no solid guarantee that the putsch will solve more problems than it may end up creating.
Did the coup leaders "solve" the Thaksin Shinawatra dilemma only to have created more newer problems? Can two wrongs make thing right, is a question that needs to be considered.
While it may be premature to be conclusive, the current facts speak for themselves. On Tuesday night, Thailand was transformed from a police state in the making, run by business-political groups led by Thaksin, into to a militarised society ruled by guns and tanks, calling itself the "Administrative Reform Council under Democratic System with His Majesty the King as the Head".
The name of the coup group is itself a contradiction in terms -- it calls itself "democratic" while opting for undemocratic means to "restore democracy".
Thailand's status as a failed democracy became all too apparent on the night of Sep.19. In truth, it had become a failed democracy long before Tuesday, and that status continues today.
Majority of the Thai media have failed to uphold democracy, which they often boast of as a sacred principle of press freedom. Over the past days, it has been quite accommodating or even supportive of the coup makers. They directly or indirectly helped reinforce a belief that the coup was not only inevitable, but acceptable and even inherently good.
The coup leaders summoned all news editors on Sep. 21 to discuss how the media can remain "constructive" in carrying out their duties into the forseeable future.
On Wednesday, the coup leadership ordered all media to censor any writing or reporting that could jeopardise its efforts "to reform politics towards democracy". That was on top of another order banning political gatherings of five or more persons, making it "illegal" and subject to a maximum of six months' imprisonment.
So on Tuesday night, Thailand's press went from being under the vicious threats, control and manipulation of a savvy billionaire-turned-prime minister to one literally being under the control and "protection" of the military's guns and tanks.
Some journalists even think like the coup leaders, saying it's "natural" for coup makers to curb press freedom because they would need some time to crack down on pro-Thaksin media and elements.
Thaksin thought that any media which criticised the then ruling party and his administration were not being "constructive" and are thus his enemies. He tried to eliminate them through various means. Now, the junta leaders, and even some journalists, appear to think just like Thaksin.
When journalists' thinking and rationale become akin to and approving of that of the coup leaders', the democratic culture is truly endangered.
The public who support the coup, local television reported Thursday, said that the media is "free at last".
At present, broadcast media are encouraged or are even being insisted upon to criticise Thaksin. When state-controlled broadcast media changed colour overnight after the group, like a chameleon, they became neither free nor independent -- they just got a new boss that expects the TV stations to be just as subservient to them.
Both Thaksin and his nemesis, the coup leaders who toppled him, apparently believe that Thai people are not mature enough to be able to make sound judgements, through open debate and free press, by themselves. Both the old administration of Thaksin and the new regime apparently do not think that people can and should think for themselves.
If the press continues to give the coup leaders the luxury of a honeymoon period and resign themselves to the 'inevitability' of the coup, citing half a dozen or more reasons why people should simply accept and endorse the new regime, the Thai media are committing professional suicide in the eyes of the world. They have abandoned their responsibility as a watchdog, and are on the way to turning themselves into lapdogs.
They have failed the litmus test of press freedom.
How long such illegitimate and unconstitutional orders will last, we do not know. But surely, they will have a long-lasting impact -- and instill in the minds of a younger generation of Thais that using brute force is not only an acceptable but a preferred method of solving political and other differences. (END/06)
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