Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Press freedom declined further in Thailand in 2004 as editors and publishers faced increased pressure from the government in the form of civil and criminal defamation lawsuits, as well as more subtle forms of editorial interference and economic pressure. While there are strong constitutional protections for freedom of expression, they are balanced by laws that enable the government to restrict this right in order to preserve national security, maintain public order, or prevent insults to the royal family or Buddhism. Though rarely used, the 1941 Printing Act gives authorities the power to shut down media outlets. The National Broadcasting Commission, which administers broadcast frequencies and is constitutionally mandated to be independent and nonpartisan, held elections this year that nevertheless saw victories by candidates that to a person had close ties to business and government. Access to government information has diminished under Thai premier Thaksin Shinawatra, despite the 1997 passage of a freedom of information law. The year's highlight development was a US$9.6 million libel suit filed during the last week of August against Thaksin's critics by Shin Corporation, the country's largest telecommunications conglomerate founded by Thaksin himself. The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) expressed concern over reports published by one of Bangkok's leading English-language newspapers, The Nation, that the Thai government is considering laws and measures patterned after Singaporean and Malaysian internal security acts to preempt expected violence in its troubled southern provinces.
Over the past three years, the Thai Journalists Association and the Thai Broadcasters Association have documented more than 20 cases in which news editors and print and broadcast journalists have been dismissed or transferred or have had their work tampered with to appease the government. Journalists and editors report that they are routinely pressured by the government to alter news coverage and edit overly critical stories. Even international news agencies now face pressure from the government. The Nation reported that police harassed reporters into identifying a photographer who took a damning photo of a soldier firing into a crowd of protesters in one of Thailand's southern provinces, where violence claimed more than 500 lives in 2004. There is an increasing level of self-censorship, but many journalists continue to scrutinize official policies and report allegations of corruption and human rights abuses despite threats and pressures.
While the print media are privately run, the government and armed forces own or oversee most radio and broadcast television stations. Conflicts of interest remain a concern, as corporations controlled by Thaksin's family or with ties to the ruling party own or have shares in a growing number of private media outlets and exert influence over editorial policy. The government rewards media outlets supportive of its policies through the allocation of advertising by telecommunications firms and state enterprises.