06BANGKOK5837 The Coup and the Media: TV Censorship and Print Freedom
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Debra P Tous 09/27/2006 10:34:21 AM
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SUBJECT: The Coup and the Media: TV Censorship and Print Freedom
1. (SBU) Summary: Thai army troops continue to occupy almost all
Thai TV network studios, and are monitoring their broadcasts.
Thailand\’s major cable network has stopped blacking out broadcasts
from CNN and BBC whenever Thaksin\’s name is mentioned or image
shown. Commercial radio stations are operating, although provincial
community radio stations have closed. Newspapers report no
interference. At least one political web board was shut, but is
back up and includes some mildly critical postings. End summary.
TV: Armed Troops in Studios
2. (SBU) During the night of the coup, all Thai free-to-air
broadcast stations aired the same feed from army-owned and operated
Channel 5, but by mid-morning the next day they had returned to
\”regular\” programming, mostly light entertainment and informational
shows. Newscasts continue to air at their regularly scheduled times
and reports include factual – positive – news of the coup. News
commentary, never a very large segment of Thai TV programming, has
largely ceased. The exception is the all-news-format Nation
3. (SBU) Embassy staff visited various TV stations. At ITV, the
network owned by Thaksin before he sold it to Temasek, armed
soldiers lined the front gate, front door, and newsroom. A huge
truck and armored vehicle were parked near the entrance, with more
vehicles at the exit. ITV reporters and anchors said the military
asked them not to broadcast material that might have a \”negative
impact\” or \”cause any resistance or disturbance.\” They are not
editing or reviewing material, although they are watching the
broadcasts. ITV staff acknowledged that, at least initially, they
felt the soldiers\’ presence had an \”oppressive\” effect on their
work. Likewise, the privately owned satellite Nation Channel has a
significant military presence, with armed guards and trucks at the
gate and five soldiers with rifles (with the clips out) outside and
inside the newsroom.
4. (SBU) Adisak Limprungpatanakij, president of the Nation
Broadcasting Corporation and avidly anti-Thaksin, cited a live
interview they aired with anti-coup content to make his point that
the coup has not affected press freedom. He said he believed the
military commander, who told him the troops were to provide security
to the Nation Channel and assist in linking to Channel 5 pool
coverage. Nation Channel staff happily keep the soldiers well-fed
during their stay.
5. (SBU) In contrast, the entertainment-oriented Channel 3 has only
a few soldiers guarding the entrance and news building, with no
trucks or equipment. A Channel 3 producer said the military has
requested that the station not air negative comments about the CDRM.
6. (SBU) Notably, there is no troop presence whatsoever at ASTV, the
free satellite TV network owned by anti-Thaksin campaigner Sondhi.
On coup night, no one asked them to air the Channel 5 pool coverage,
although they did so voluntarily when a statement was expected.
ASTV continues to broadcast without interference.
7. (SBU) CNN, BBC and MSNBC are now broadcasting normally. For two
days after the coup, pictures of or interviews about Thaksin
triggered an interruption with still pictures of movie stars. For
example, UBC cut a BBC interview with Pasook Pongpaijit, an academic
mildly critical of the coup, and a CNN interview with Paul Handley,
author of a book critical of the King.
The Night of the Coup: All Army Pool
8. (SBU) Reporters offered insight into media events the night of
the coup, as well. State-owned MCOT Channel 9 reporters said they
aired Prime Minister Thaksin\’s emergency statement only after ITV
refused. After Thaksin had been on the air for a couple of minutes,
armed army personnel burst into the Channel 9 studio, asked where
the Control Room was, and demanded that the technicians cut off the
broadcast. The screen went blank for a few minutes, and then
Channel 9 began running the Channel 5 stock footage paying homage to
the King. CNN interviewed Deputy Prime Minister Surakiat in New
York shortly after that, and a few minutes later UBC, the MCOT-owned
cable operator, cut transmission of CNN, MSNBC, and BBC.
Print media: Freer post-Coup?
9. (SBU) PA visits to print media revealed no overt censorship or
intimidation. Thai Rath and Bangkok Post newsrooms were operating
normally. Pana Janviroj, president of the Nation Multimedia Group,
said no troops have entered the Nation newsroom or its Thai-language
sister papers: Kom Chad Luek and Krungthep Turakit. When asked
about self-censorship, Pana said, \”We sympathize with the CDRM, so
there is (no need for) self-censorship.\” A Thai Rat reporter
claimed he felt freer to report than before the coup. Bangkok Post
reporters said that, although the CDRM had issued a statement asking
for the media\’s cooperation in reporting news, they had seen no
evidence of pressure to influence the print media.
Radio: Large Stations Open, Community Radio Closed
10. (SBU) Large-scale commercial radio stations continue to operate
in Bangkok. One well-known radio personality noted on air that, in
contrast to past coups, no one tried to review or censor broadcasts.
However, community radio stations have been temporarily banned in
the provinces; local military officials have said this is because
these stations are difficult to monitor and control.
Web: Content to be Monitored, Some Critical Postings
11. (SBU) According to news posted on a popular web board,
Hansa.com, the Council for Democratic Reform under the
Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) called in all Internet Service
Providers (ISPs) to try to control website content, under threat of
closure. Thus far, the CDRM has not closed any website completely.
The CNN and BBC websites continue to function normally. All of the
major Thai chat sites have announcements posted that the country is
under Martial Law and postings should be \”careful and constructive\”.
The \”Politics Board\” of Pantip.com was shut down yesterday
following an influx of strong anti-coup messages. The board is back
up, and even now, roughly half of the messages are mildly critical
of the coup, although opinions are expressed in a sarcastic way.
— I want a PM from an election, not from a gun barrel.
— What will happen to the economy? I bought a lot of shares!!
— How can we go on group tours if they won\’t let us gather more
than 5 people?
— How long will it take for Thais to forget all about this? One
answer: 48 hours or less! Thais forget fast.
— Tanks are drifting to Bangkok! Can they be ticketed for turning
12. (SBU) Comment: Post has made our views about the importance of
press freedom clear to General Sonthi and other coup members. Their
response has been to reiterate that there is \”no censorship\” while
acknowledging that some news cutouts are occurring. End comment.