Thomas Jefferson said he would "rather have a free press and no government than a government and no free press." A Western view that is being force-fed down the throats of Asians? Not necessarily. Throughout Western history, there has been no shortage of despots and dictators who would cringe at the idea of a free press. The idea for freedom of the press came about as a reaction to abuses of power by Western rulers and politicians. Modern-day Western politicians know they can't directly control the press and so resort to manipulating the press through spin and outright lies.
Pandit Jawarhalal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India, Asia's largest democracy, said: "I would rather have a completely free press, with all the dangers involved in the wrong use of the freedom, than a suppressed or regulated Press". A pity that the Thai public doesn't realize the implications of basic freedoms being cut from under them.
Meddling in media `worst since 1976'
Call for independent journals, forums
Government interference in the media is at its worst point since the Oct 6, 1976 Thammasat University massacre led an ultra-conservative government to suppress press freedom, says academic Nithi Eawsriwong.
After Oct 6, 1976, when scores of pro-democracy student protesters were killed by right-wing mobs, the conservative- government of the time cracked down on the pro-democracy forces and curbed press freedom.
Mr Nithi, lecturer at Midnight University in Chiang Mai, said current politicians were also interfering in the work of independent agencies such as the Constitution Court, the National Counter Corruption Commission and the Election Commission.
Speaking at a seminar on alternative media, Mr Nithi said people could no longer rely on independent bodies and needed to safeguard the role of the media. Thailand required more alternative media such as forums and independent journals which would allow public participation, he said.
Ruj Komolbutr, lecturer of Thammasat University's faculty of journalism and mass communications, said the Thaksin government had interfered with the media 31 times in the past three years.
The government had banned the Khor Kid Duay Khon TV talk show, intervened in the Ruam Duay Chuay Kan radio programme, issued warnings to Thai and foreign media including the Far Eastern Economic Review, deprived Thai Post and Naew Na newspapers of advertisements, and indirectly caused the dismissal of the editors of the Bangkok Post newspaper and Siam Rath weekly magazine.
Somkiat Tangkijvanich of Thailand Development Research Institute said the media was likely to come under still tighter control as media outlets transformed via mergers into public companies in hopes of competing for TV and radio frequencies.
The government should avoid using state-run media such as the Mass Communications Organisation of Thailand and Channel 11 as its mouthpieces, Mr Somkiat said.
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