TV Host Replaced on Orders of Thai Junta

After meeting with Thai military representatives, Thai Public Broadcasting Services (Thai PBS) demoted a TV host who delivered a news story critical of the ruling junta.

The consultation also revealed that the army wanted a Thai PBS program called “People's Voices that Need to be Heard before the Reform” to focus more on general news without discussing “sensitive” issues. The show reflected the concerns and issues of Thais on the rubber plantations and in rural villages of the southern provinces. In particular, the junta was not pleased with an episode aired on Nov. 8 that featured the views of the villagers at Hat Yai District in Songkhla Province. The army subsequently demanded the that talk show host Nattaya Wawweerakup be replaced and put into a less prominent position with the network.

Thai Public Broadcasting Services heavily depends on a yearly grant from the junta.

According to independent online media portal Prachatai, the army was reportedly unhappy with questions Wawweerakup asked during a talk show with villagers and activists, some of which allegedly touched on the coup d’état. Meanwhile, the English daily The Nation reported that the Thai PBS was forced to replace the TV host after a group of military officers “requested” the removal of the show, citing an order from their “bosses” in the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO, the name of the junta government). The Thai PBS also changed the format of the program by dropping the interview with farmers and activists.

The army launched a coup last May in a bid to end the violent clashes between supporters of the country’s major political parties. The army nullified the constitution, detained hundreds of politicians, and controlled the newsrooms of major media stations. It also outlawed protests and the public gathering of five or more people. The army promised to hand power back to the civilian government only after substantial political and electoral reforms have been implemented.

In a press conference, Army Chief General General Udomdej Sitabutr said he was unhappy with the talk show clip.

This is the clip that leader can't accept.

Following the media reports of the military intervention, Thienchay Kiranandana, the president of the National Reform Council, expressed his concern about the NCPO reaction to the show. The mandate of the National Reform Council is to carry out reforms as determined by the junta. The NRC has about 250 members, all of whom are hand-picked by the NCPO. Council President Kiranandana said:

I believe shows like this will be suspended again because of martial law. The government is clear on martial law – it is still active, and I cannot ask the NCPO to lift martial law.

Interestingly, this story was ignored by mainstream media and it was only reported on Facebook by an environmental NGO, The Energy Walk. The Facebook post of the Bangkok-based organization was later picked up by others, including Thai PBS.

According to Thai PBS media site, the public institution has two fundamental principles: 

Editorial independence and accountability are crucial to the role of Thai PBS as public broadcaster.

This ironic twist left many people in social media initially confused. About a year ago, Wawweerakup openly supported the removal of a journalist in Thai PBS in relation to another case.

เราหวังว่า”ณาตยา”@ThaiPBS คงเข้าใจแล้วว่า ทำไมจึงมีกลุ่มคนออกมาเรียกร้องหา #เสรีภาพ บางคนพลีชีพเพื่อมันด้วยซ้ำ

— Lin Okabe (@Byakuren29) November 15, 2014

We hope that “Nattaya” @ThaiPBS now understand why some people are asking for #freedom while some of them sacrifice their lives for it.

The incident involving the Thai PBS generated more doubts about the independent role of the media and the impact of interference, not just by the military authorities but also by those who see the media solely as a mouthpiece of the junta.

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