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Thailand May Ban Edition of British Magazine - 2002-03-02

Thai police have moved to ban an issue of the British-based Economist magazine because of an article mentioning the Thai monarchy. The move comes amid a threatened clamp down on some foreign journalists. The incidents are drawing international protest.

Thai police have said they plan to ban the latest edition of The Economist magazine for an article harsh on Thailand.

The Economist article contained an economic survey about Thailand - which said the country was solidly pursuing political and civil reform despite certain problems like corruption.

But the survey also included an analysis on the future of the monarchy. Criticisms of the country's royal family are social and legal taboos. Before the official ban was to go into effect, The Economist's distributors, who feared legal action, agreed to withhold this edition of the magazine.

The Committee to Protect Journalists says the move is part of a disturbing trend and threatens Thai democracy. Lin Neumann is the CPJ's Asia consultant. "We think that this is not something that really gives an accurate reflection of the constitutional guarantees for press freedom in Thailand," she said.

The case of The Economist comes on the heels of moves to silence other foreign media. The government has threatened to expel two western correspondents from The Far Eastern Economic Review. At issue was a January 10 article noting tension between Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and the king.

Lin Neumann said that Thailand has made great gains toward media freedom but that is now in jeopardy. "Traditionally we have thought of the media in Thailand as the freest and most courageous, really, of any in Asia. However, since Prime Minister Thaksin came into power there has been an increasing amount of tension between the government and the local press. The foreign press have been fairly immune until recently," he explained.

Mr. Neumann noted that virtually every press freedom group in the world has lodged protests with the Thai government. "The international pressure has had some effect. The strongest reaction, really, has been from the Thais and I think that has domestic - political implications for Thai politics," he said.

The Thai government claims that some of the news articles did little more than tarnish Thailand's image. The Committee to Protect Journalists says the attempt to interfere with press freedom hurts Thailand's reputation far more.