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Thailand's Coup Leaders Say Civilian Government to Ease Media Controls

  • Ron Corben

Thailand's military council says the new civilian government it intends to install will move quickly to ease restrictions imposed on the media after the September 19 coup. But Thai media associations are calling for controls to be lifted sooner.

Thai coup leaders say they feared that reporting in favor of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra could create "confusion," so they restricted broadcasts with the aim of, in their words - "leaving it quiet for a while."

A spokesman for the military, Major General Thaweep Maiyalarb, said Friday it would be up to the incoming civilian government to decide when to lift media restrictions.

"[I am sure] that, once we have the interim government and the interim government will start working on [easing the restrictions] right away," he said.

The military moved quickly on September 19 to shut down local broadcasters and block international stations on cable TV. The cable stations are now back on the air, but local television is closely monitored.

The military also closed several hundred small radio stations in northern Thailand - a stronghold of the ousted prime minister. Many of the stations' owners have political or business ties to Mr. Thaksin.

The coup also led to the resignation of the board of state-owned TV operator, MCOT. On the night of the coup, MCOT TV began to broadcast an emergency decree issued by Mr. Thaksin - who was out of the country - but the military stopped the transmission. MCOT's board has since been replaced and the operator is back on the air.

Newspapers and broadcasters have all been warned against reporting negative opinions about the coup.

Supinya Klangnarong, from the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, says the military should lift the media restrictions and remove the soldiers stationed outside media outlets.

"Our standpoint is, we still believe that the military have no right, they should not give any order to shut down any media, even those [community] radio stations," she said. "It is still not fair, [it is] not legitimate for the military to issue an order to shut down."

General Winai Phattiyakul, one of the coup leaders, told foreign journalists Friday that the military wanted the foreign media to "understand the real situation in Thailand."

The military says the coup was necessary to avoid violence between pro- and anti-Thaksin forces.

They also say Mr. Thaksin planned to use emergency powers to strengthen his control over the armed forces.

Mr. Thaksin had been under pressure to resign since early this year over allegations of abuse of power and corruption.

The coup leaders have promised to install a new civilian government by October 4.

Thai media are reporting that the new prime minister is likely to be General Surayud Chulanont, a retired officer and a member of revered Thai King Bhumipol Adulyadej's key advisory body.

Human rights groups and governments around the world, including the United States, have criticized the coup. But opposition in Thailand to the takeover has been minimal.

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