Shutting down the media-The Nation

April 25, 2009

BURNING ISSUE
Shutting down media exposes Govt’s fears
Pravit Rojanaphruk
The Nation: April 22, 2009

http://nationmultimedia.com/2009/04/22/politics/politics_30101000.php

After watching the red shirts rioting on the streets of Bangkok, the degeneration into violence and finally the failed insurrection, no wonder some, if not many, people are now “relieved” that the pro-Thaksin Democratic Alliance Against Dictatorship media are being silenced by the government.

People who do not support the red-shirted movement or even oppose it should not succumb to the temptation of seeing this as a positive move for society, however.

The unprecedented crackdown on the DTV station, community radios both in Bangkok and the North and Northeast, as well as on the Internet, over the past week or so will only do more damage to the development of Thai democracy in the long run.

The actions, backed by the draconian emergency decree, may restore some semblance of peace and order to the country but it is likely to be temporary and ersatz.

No censored society can be democratic. What is needed instead is patience and tolerance in allowing the red shirts or yellow shirts to exercise their civil right to freedom of expression and learn to determine by themselves what is true, false, fact, fiction, propaganda or mere persuasion.

If society takes the road of censorship, who then will decide what is fit to be published or aired on TV or radio? How can impartiality be guaranteed if there’s some sort of supreme political censorship organ? And what side effect and repercussions will it have? This heavy-censorship road, followed extensively by countries like China and Singapore, must be avoided at all cost.

The side effect of shutting down the anti-government media is already being manifested in the fact that anti-government protesters can no longer verify rumours and hearsay independently from the state-controlled media or mass media sympathetic to the government.

The more the state pulls the plug on all the few remaining red-media outlets, the more these people feel the government has something to hide from them.

On top of that, muzzling media opposed to the government is an insult to the people by any elected administration, as it implies the people will simply swallow up “propaganda” spread by the red or yellow-shirt media in toto.

If some elite believe that people can be so easily brainwashed, then perhaps it’s not long before some will conclude that many citizens are not qualified or are incapable of making their own election decision.

The problem lies not in the many versions of the “truth” about political reality being spread by red-shirt or yellow-shirt media, but the fact that many reds or yellows no longer trust state-controlled media or those closely aligned with the current powers that be.

Shutting red-shirt media down and force feeding them three times a day with the official version of what took place from April 13-14, and on the claim that no protesters were killed by the Army, won’t change these people’s minds but will most likely have the opposite effect as long as the media landscape is restricted.

Indeed, people who incite violence through the media need to be prosecuted. But this shouldn’t mean the closure of the media outlet.

And if anyone claims these red or yellow media are mere propaganda tools, then one must watch state-controlled Channel 11 to see the resemblance. On Sunday, this writer watched Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva speaking on his weekly national television address. What is intriguing or rather disturbing is not what Abhisit said but the scrolling SMS messages appearing at the bottom of the screen claiming to represent that they were all pro-government and pro-Abhisit even though the riot was still ongoing!

Well, perhaps the only difference this writer can think of is that the one-sided media being shut down by the state and branded as mere propaganda tools happened to be anti-government and not ones manufactured by the state.

It also only differs from other media spreading rumours and gossip about pop stars or superstitions in that the red-shirt media have become a threat to the very existence of the government and the state. That’s all.

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