Thais skirt media crackdown, for now

Army hasn't enforced censorship under state of emergency

BANGKOK -- Thai media was watching and waiting Tuesday as Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej declared a state of emergency that threatened to clamp down on their ability to report the news.

Sundaravej's declaration, which so far has received scant support from the country's military, could mean a restriction on the broadcast and publication of any news the government believes might prolong the recent unrest here.

Anti-government group the People's Alliance for Democracy has maintained loud yet peaceful street protests for several months, including storming the government television station Aug. 26. On Monday, however, clashes between opposing political factions left one person dead and dozens injured.

But for now, army chief Anupong Paochinda has said he will not impose censorship and instead try to use negotiations and peaceful means to reconcile political differences.

"It's amazing that the military has taken a stand and said they won't enforce this censorship," said Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior editor with the Nation, an English-language newspaper in Thailand. "It's very encouraging."

Still, as a precaution, a joint statement against censorship was issued Tuesday by the Press Council of Thailand, the Thai Journalists Assn., the Confederation of Thai Journalists, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Assn. and the Thailand Cable TV Assn.

PAD claims that Sundaravej is a proxy for former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who has been accused of corruption and disloyalty to the monarchy, a grave offense in Thailand.

Last week, PAD escalated its efforts, storming the prime minister's compound as well the government television station, NBT.

PAD protesters left the NBT premises soon after they entered, but tens of thousands of PAD sympathizers have continued to occupy the prime minister's compound grounds and have yet to be removed by authorities.

In response, several thousand pro-government supporters attacked the group in a predawn raid using sticks and a few firearms.

Raw, brutal footage of the attacks has since aired repeatedly on television and is still available on news Web sites despite the calls for censorship, and so far, no demands have been made to remove any potentially inflammatory footage.

The ASTV satellite network, which is owned by one of the prominent PAD leaders, has continued to broadcast the speeches of PAD leaders.

Shinawatra was ousted in a coup in 2006. He returned to Thailand to face charges this year, but fled to London last month.
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