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Thailand 20 September 2006

Concern about military’s position on press and censorship after coup

Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the Thai military’s attitude towards the press since ousting Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra yesterday. After seizing control of TV stations for several hours last night, the army let newspapers publish normally today. But a military spokesman ordered the information ministry to censor information hostile to the new government.

"It would be deplorable if a bloodless coup led to a return of censorship," Reporters Without Borders said. "The military government must lose no time in guaranteeing the restoration of basic freedoms, especially complete press freedom. The confiscation of liberties must not be the response to the previous government’s failures. The Thai news media, which had a rough ride in recent years, must now recover their independence."

A spokesman for the new military junta, called the Council of Administrative Reform (CAR), this morning ordered the ministry of information and communication technology to "control and censor all information that could affect the CAR’s work." Previously, in its 10th communiqué since taking power, the junta requested the cooperation of the news media in "presenting accurate information to the public."

The army chief, Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin spoke on television, condemning the previous government’s corruption and nepotism and promising a rapid return to democracy.

Television programmes were interrupted for several hours after the military took control of government buildings and TV stations yesterday evening. Footage of the royal family and patriotic songs were broadcast. Nation TV, an independent station, was able to broadcast all night.

No incidents involving soldiers and journalists were reported. The main Thai and English-language newspapers were published as normal this morning. But the broadcasting of international TV stations such as CNN and BBC World was suspended on Thai cable services yesterday evening and resumed today. The Thai news media reported that the security forces seized broadcasting equipment. The military apparently fear that the deposed prime minister, who is currently in New York, could launch an appeal to his supporters.

This is the first time the military has taken power since 1992. But the army controls at least two television stations and more than 120 of the country’s 500 radio stations.

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