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Thai censorship

Richard Porter | 13:44 UK time, Thursday, 21 September 2006

If you'd been watching BBC World at 23:50 GMT last night, you would have seen a report about the Thai prime minister arriving in London, after flying from the United Nations in New York.

BBC World logoExcept in Thailand, however. There, just as the report began, a caption appeared in place of our signal to say "programming will resume shortly" - and then, bizarrely, a montage of Western movie stars appeared. We'd been censored... as we have been since the coup began on Tuesday.

Things have got a little better. Initially we were taken off air completely, as were CNN. We re-appeared yesterday morning, Thai time, but since then have both been subject to selective censorship.

Footage of the coup leaders appears to be allowed to go out uncensored, but anything involving Thaksin Shinawatra is being blocked. Does this mean, however, that the Thai people know nothing of what he is saying?

I doubt it very much. In this digital age, information travels freely - if it's not by satellite television, it's via email, the Internet, or by SMS. The crude censorship being deployed in Thailand may hark back to an age when Governments really could control all the information, and surely those days are gone.

Incidentally, we know exactly what's happening thanks to our colleagues at BBC Monitoring, based at Caversham. They have been carefully monitoring all the media reports in Thailand, and I'm grateful to them for providing us with the necessary information.

So last night they were able to tell us more details about the terms of the censorship, by monitoring a report on the Thai Channel 9. This is the text of the statement read out:

    "Having successfully seized the executive power of the country, the Administrative Reform Committee under the Democratic System with the King as the Head of State commands the ICT Ministry to censor, prevent, block out, and destroy dissemination of information in the information technology system, transmitted through all communication networks, that contains articles, messages, verbal speech or any other discourse that might undermine the reform for democracy under constitutional monarchy as already specified in the Administrative Reform Committee Under the Democratic System With the King as the Head of State's earlier announcement."

Perhaps we should be grateful that at least they're admitting to censoring the media. This morning there was a bit more detail to accompany that statement. BBC Monitoring reports the Thai Nation newspaper's website as saying...

    "The permanent secretary for Information and Communications Technology Ministry Thursday (21 Sep) held a meeting with representatives of various media. Kraisorn Pornsutee, the permanent secretary, asked the media representatives to cancel the show of SMS comments of audience on TVs as well as cancelling phone-in comments on radio programmes. Those attending the meeting were representatives of state firms, website operators, mobile phone operators, print and electronic media. The meeting took place at 13:30 local time (06:30 GMT). Kraisorn also asked the website operators to monitor comments on their webboard to screen out provocative comments."

So the authorities are trying to restrict the new media as well as the "traditional". As I've said, I doubt if that can really be effective. But it would be interesting to see what you think about that - especially if you're in Thailand...


  • 1.
  • At 04:43 PM on 21 Sep 2006,
  • Tom wrote:

Put BBC's John Simpson in charge of providing analysis from Thailand. He can report "there has been a coup" - which would be the only bit of information that he has processed correctly on the BBC website.

  • 2.
  • At 10:07 AM on 22 Sep 2006,
  • david wrote:

the bbc and cnn did go off the air at around midnight through ubc thats a sattellite provider but cable tv still had bbc and cnn i whatch bbc through out the night no problem for me

  • 3.
  • At 11:05 AM on 22 Sep 2006,
  • Namwan wrote:

I think it's pretty much true that thai people know so little about what Thaksin was saying to the foreign medias or they don't care to know so. What the coup and many middle class people in Bangkok have in common is to get rid of this government and especially the Prime Minister, so it makes the incident turn out to be unexpectedly peaceful, though on the surface. What thai people don't realize is, the situation they’re in now is totally against the democracy principle. They don’t feel and aware that they have no rights, and being blocked from the information on the media, don’t bother them. Not only foreign news channels, all thai message boards and any web sites which express the opinions against the coup have been blocked too ( – Ratchadamnern web board,…etc.). A group of people who have doubt about how the coup is going to handle the situation have created a website – and today I found out it has been down.

I’ve complained to my co-workers about not being able to write and receive news from all channels, they don’t really understand what’s going on here and it doesn’t bother them. Everyone seems to be satisfied with the coup and their policy. It’s so sad to know, we, who think of ourselves as intellectual-middle class, who claim we would do everything to save our democracy, can be so careless or realize so little about our rights.

By the way, when I went to this BBC page , which has article about the king, the page is not working and instead I was redirected to the coup page –

Sadly, as recent bias reporting by the BBC has shown, the coup leaders thought this step necessary.

Otherwise, we would have had hysterical left wing reports not reflecting the true picture on the ground and this may have made the situation worse.

Until the Beeb starts providing news and not its own agenda, we may see this again in other parts of the world.

  • 5.
  • At 06:18 AM on 23 Sep 2006,
  • John wrote:

The Thai people certainly do know what both Thaksin and the foreign media are saying, and if my wife (who lives in "rural" Thailand, reporting makes it sound like the wild west..) is typical are pretty annoyed about such misinformed comment. She (not a "Bangkok Elite", whatever that is) supports this week's events as the lesser of two evils, as do her family and friends.

Mr T again and again blocked cable news channels when it suited him and/or they were owned by his political opponents. So this is different? It's certainly not right, but it's not surprising. They don't want any demonstrations, which in the past have lead to riots and bloodshed.

If they do not relax the restrictions or carry out their promises, then perhaps is the time to complain. The Thai's certainly will, they have removed a military government more than once!

Some balanced reporting would be welcome.

  • 6.
  • At 11:30 AM on 23 Sep 2006,
  • Peter Smith wrote:

Sorry, but you are comletely wrong on the subject of censorship. I watched all of the BBC's broadcasts. It was available on both my televisions, each of which has a different supplier. By the way, the coverage was excellent. I wouldn't have known anything about the coup until the next morning if you hadn't been broadcasting, and I also told many friends to switch on their televisions as well. I believe that this is a signifacant event for Thailand which should have enormous benefits. Thaksin the despot, dictator, has gone. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

  • 7.
  • At 02:24 PM on 23 Sep 2006,
  • Julian wrote:

Well the BBC enagages in censorship all the time especially regarding the 'I' word!! So, BBC, please make sure that, regarding the Thai coup story, you don't censor the fact that he (the new Prime Minister) is a Muslim!

  • 8.
  • At 01:59 AM on 24 Sep 2006,
  • Bryan wrote:

The BBC should really not be self-righteously talking about censorship as if you would never dream of indulging in it. In fact, you continually censor anything that doesn't suit your agenda.

Just the other day you cut a vital bit of information out of your BBC World broadcast on the king of Swaziland:

The censored bit would have revealed to your TV audience that the king apparently doesn't believe that polygamy contributes to the incredibly high rate of AIDS infections in Swaziland. Why was that information in your World Service report but cut out of your TV broadcast?

What justification can there possibly be for hiding from your audience the appalling indifference to AIDS shown by African leaders?

  • 9.
  • At 01:59 AM on 24 Sep 2006,
  • peter wrote:

The temporary blocking of easily accessible foreign TV broadcasts was allegedly because the coup leaders feared that Thaksin would make some appeal to his supporters (including mob organizers) to stage a counter-coup. After that danger had past and the 'coupists' had consolidated their hold on power, the blocking ceased.
PS. As a long-term Bangkok resident I generally find recent BBC reporting on Thailand to be fairly superficial and sometimes inaccurate.

  • 10.
  • At 10:01 AM on 24 Sep 2006,
  • Jenny wrote:

Hmmm, it rather looks like democracy isn't universally valued around here, even when it is overthrown at the points of the gun barrels of tanks. It's reminding me somewhat of the attitudes of the wealthy elites of Venezuela when attempts were made to overthrow Chavez' democratically elected, populist and successful government.

Could the anti-Thaksin protests and poll boycotts have also been anger at being outvoted by the larger, poorer classes in Thai society? What exactly is the evidence behind allegations that Thaksin's unassailable majority was due to bribery, as the BBC has reported? Who monitored the polls? Was Thaksin really just a Thai Silvio Berlusconi? The country certainly prospered under his government whereas Italy under their media mogul PM stagnated and became the corrupt and right-wing laughing stock of Europe.

A huge problem with regimes that have overthrown the rule of law and controlled the media is that things can happen unreported, whilst at the same time rumours can be so rife that they cannot be trusted. In those situations everything depends upon the personal qualities of those in power. Minorities, the wealthy, or the poor, or anyone else that catches the eye can suffer. Thailand has several minorities (ethnic, sexual, refugee, expatriate) who were tolerated if not treated entirely equally under Thaksin. I hope the NGOs there, and the BBC, will be watching and speak out rapidly if the military regime turns against any of them, perhaps in seeking populist support.

Sensorship in a country which seemed to be very democratic when i was out there.

But i have to say it does seem as if the BBC are a little biased!

China was even worse than above, during the Iraqi invasion George Bush was always dubbed in english so you never knew what he was really saying. But you knew he wasnt saying what the Chinese said he was!

  • 12.
  • At 06:33 PM on 26 Sep 2006,
  • thai people wrote:

Most of newspaper owner,some of cable TV in Thailand belong to anti-Thaksin Leader,please check and present their profile to the world to know.please research thailand the country that scare to developement,the country that scare that poor people will learn more and the will get a good chance,some group of people will lost the benefit.please check the real background of people who anti-Thaksin.AND PLEASE KEEP EYES ON WATER FLOOD IN THAILAND NOW,how can they help people,the process,the idea,skill ,how smart they can do for people now except for they reason including the coup. thank you.

  • 13.
  • At 09:38 PM on 30 Sep 2006,
  • joo lee wrote:

The online censorship is actually getting worse here. WWW access is being heavily restricted. Many BBC articles on Thai affairs are blocked, though often they become available after a few hours, if only temporarily (perhaps in error?). To check this I use one browser on regular settings and another using encryption which connects to an anonymous proxy server (I'm having to use the encrypted anonymous one to access this site and make this post). When the Ministry of Information and Communications can't inspect and block my traffic I can get a lot more information and do a lot more communicating. Pre-coup, blocked pages would be obvious - a full screen announcement explaining the page is blocked by the Thai govt. These were mostly dating/adult sites or forums where criticism of the king was/might be made. Generally censorship of the www wouldn't be apparent to most people. Now we just get a 404 unavailable page but checking the address bar reveals this "" which shows that the Thai govt is actively blocking the requested page.
In fact right now (and for the past several hours) the whole of the Asia Pacific section of BBC news is blocked (Graphics version, text version is alway accessible ...the censors here are typically blinkered) . Maybe it will be available shortly after the Thai censors satisfy themselves about some new story....or maybe not.
Stories that have been blocked today (prior to the whole section becoming unavailable) have included such controversial stuff as, a story about changes in Confucian thinking on gender equality in China, and the impending arrival of a typhoon in Vietnam. The political significance/relevance of these for Thailand escapes me, but then I'm not a military man or a Thai.

  • 14.
  • At 07:53 AM on 01 Oct 2006,
  • joo lee wrote:

The army just announced a new constitution and that the new ex-military I mean civilian prime minister...will be formally announced later today. Suddenly BBC's Asia Pacific section is accessible again and this time in full. Purely co-incidental of course. Nothing to do with the embarrassing leak of the new PM's appointment to the foreign press before it was made known in Thailand. Of course the government wouldn't indulge in such all encompassing censorship merely to avoid admitting a slip of the tongue, would it? S.E.Asia,saving face,the free flow of the odd one out.

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well its good to know the Thai people are censored too. I would have felt very upset if it turned out they had an open and honest newsmedia when we dont get one.

Also great to see Richard Porter back and blogging, It seems like an age since he has made an appearance.

Now if he could just answer one of the thousand of so comments on his other blogs and i think he will have picked up what this 'interactive conversation with the audience' is all about.

and Merry Christmas

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