It's hard to escape Yingluck Shinawatra and Thaksin Shinawatra in the news these days. Both singlings are former prime ministers of Thailand, where a military coup took power earlier this year. The Shinawatras recently met in Japan and flew together to China on a sightseeing trip. Wherever the two former leaders go, reporters seem to follow, cataloging their travels like paparazzi.
Thailand's new prime minister isn't amused, however. The leader of the coup that followed Yingluck's resignation this year, General Prayuth Chan-ocha is asking the media not to report about the movements of Thailand's erstwhile heads of state.
Everyone is entitled to freedom of the press, freedom of the people. But if these freedoms lead to conflicts or violate other people's rights, they become inappropriate. Therefore, please don't make me use laws or power or force. I ask you to engage in conversations and find solutions for the problems that have been building up in the past.
The army says it grabbed power last May to end hostilities between the country's warring political factions. Despite his ouster, Thaksin Shinawatra remains a major political figure in Thai politics. A wealthy businessman and a successful politician, Thaksin was prime minister from 2001 until 2006, when he was overthrown by a coup. Since then, he has lived in self-imposed exile, avoiding various likely criminal charges. Thaksin's political party, nevertheless, has continued to win elections—even propelling his younger sister to the prime minister's office.
Prayuth's “request” to the journalists has provoked some resistance, as many in the media view the plea as a gag order on the press.
Suravitch Veerawan of ASTV says Prayuth shouldn't fear the media, which Veerawan argues must be free to express itself. Pichate Yingkiattikun, project manager at Siam Intelligence Unit, a think tank, questions why Thailand's prime minster has decided to “quarrel with journalists,” spreading fears among the country's local media that Prayuth is unhappy with them.
The Executive Director of Southeast Asian Press Alliance wrote on Twitter:
— Gayathry V (@gayathry) November 3, 2014
Twitter user @iiDudes sarcastically asked reporters to reject Prayuth's request and instead don masks bearing Thaksin's face:
อยากได้หน้ากากทักษิณ เอาไว้ใส่กวนตีนท่านผู้นำ pic.twitter.com/LjYUrl1icU
— นป.นักดมกาวในตำนาน (@iiDudes) November 3, 2014
I wish I had the face mask so that I can annoy the leader.
Last May, Thailand's military government announced reforms that have limited free speech. The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the censorship effort, calling for an immediate and unconditional restoration of the country's press freedoms.
Indeed, Thai journalism has struggled since Prayuth took power. A sizable faction of pro-junta reporters, moreover, makes resistance to the media crackdown even more difficult. How journalists move forward in Thailand's current atmosphere largely remains a mystery.