Thaksin, the Media Repressor
( Last edit 2009-04-18 )
Thaksin's radio show condemned
Critics: Return to air lacks political integrity
February 2006 By Post reporters
This article was written by media at the time when Thaksin was at the peak of his authority in the PM seat. Thaksin had arranged a weekly one-sided talk of his own on national public radio without allowing the opposition party the same chance. Thaksin had been successful in avoiding being questioned in any media interviews, any debates in the House of Parliament, and keeping any opposition critiques down. Political programmes on the media had been systematically replaced with termination of the concessions. Also, it was the time when Thaksin had mentioned, for a couple of times, some interference of his authority by "Invisible hands" or "Unconstitutional Highly Honoured Person(s) without definitely identifying whom he meant."
Broadcast journalists yesterday joined the growing chorus of criticism against caretaker Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's weekly radio show. The Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA) questioned the integrity and merit of the talk show, which resumed yesterday after a four-month break.
The TBJA said the Thai Rak Thai party's future was hanging by a thread, while the general election tentatively scheduled for Oct 15 was anything but confirmed. ''The government should be able to justify that the content of the programme benefits the public at large, and it is not merely a tool to publicise its achievements and gain a political edge before the election,'' said TBJA chairman Somchai Sawaengkarn. He called on the media, particularly state-run outlets, to give similar access to others who may have views different from Mr Thaksin's. ''Others should be urged to provide information from another perspective with an equal amount of airtime and space. Importantly, [the resources] should not be used for a political tit-for-tat,'' he said. Mr Somchai said any reruns of Mr Thaksin's programme should serve to provoke thought, and not just repeatedly relay the caretaker prime minister's words.
Media Monitor, a public watchdog on news reporting, would be asked to keep an eye on the prime minister's programme and the media's treatment of it, he said. The Chart Thai party joined the Democrat party in condemning Mr Thaksin's use of the airwaves, saying it lacked political etiquette. Deputy leader Somsak Prisanananthakul said it was totally inappropriate for Mr Thaksin, as caretaker prime minister, to resume his radio talk show when other parties were not given similar access. ''He cannot deny that he is exploiting state-owned equipment for political gain,'' he said.
Democrat leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said briefly of the talk show: ''In terms of political etiquette, Mr Thaksin shouldn't have done it.'' Election commissioner Prinya Nakchudtree asked the opposition parties to file a formal complaint if they considered Mr Thaksin's talk show unfair. Mr Thaksin spent much of his radio show discussing the success of the celebrations of His Majesty the King's 60th year on the throne and justifying the Thursday meeting of senior state officials at Government House.
He briefly addressed the sluggish economy which has been hit by steep oil prices, inflation and interest rates, saying the government would boost investor confidence and speed up much-delayed government spending to shore up the economy. However, Mr Thaksin stopped short of talking about the ''charismatic individual'' who he claimed on Thursday was plotting against his administration. The comment set off speculation that he was referring to Privy Council chief Gen Prem Tinsulanonda, and became a political hot potato. He also avoided discussing the fate of Thai Rak Thai as the prosecution is to ask the Constitution Court to disband the party for electoral fraud tomorrow.
People in Songkhla, Gen Prem's native province, denounced Mr Thaksin for making divisive comments and urged him to name the person he was talking about to clear any doubts. Sombat Thamrongthanyawong, a political scientist at the National Institute of Development Administration, said Mr Thaksin was not a gentleman and had tried to whip up his supporters to rise against the adversary. ''He doesn't give the other person a chance to defend himself. A good leader should never do this,'' he said.