Thai journos, four institutes pledge freedom of expression, academic freedom-Nation

April 4, 2012

Academics, journalists vow to work for freedom

Pravit Rojanaphruk

The Nation: March 29, 2012


Four academic organisations joined forces with the Thai Journalist Association (TJA) on Wednesday in a pledge to expand the space for freedom of expression and academic freedom in Thailand.

They outlined eight key issues that need to be addressed, including the discussion of the role of the monarchy in a liberal democratic society, understanding the positives and negatives of nationalism and populism, the need for transitional justice, and the reduction of political hate speech.

The group comprises King Prajadhipok’s Institute (KPI), Chulalongkorn University’s Social Research Institute, Thailand Development Research Institute (TDRI) and Sanya Thammasak Institute for Democracy at Thammasat University.

They also pointed out that socio-economic and political disparity in Thailand must be addressed and a balance must be found regarding the right to freedom of assembly.

“It’s time to expand the space for rights and liberty… All sides must have freedom in expressing themselves and raising issues,” part of the statement reads, adding that all sides of the political divide should reduce their biases. The alliance vowed to carry out various academic activities to expand freedom of academia and expression in Thailand this year and next year and invites other interested organisations to join hands.

The announcement at Thammasat University, was followed by a brief symposium by well-known academics.

Prof Krittiya Archavanitkul of Mahidol University said there should be an end to self-censorship in academia and society when it comes to issues such as the monarchy institution and abortion.

“What we ought to discuss are issues that affect the public,” she said, discounting issues like private lives of movie stars and the like. “We ought to have the ability to scrutinise various facts, various events and beliefs as well. I want the mainstream mass media to pay attention to this.”

Thammasat University scholar Thanet Apornsuwan urged academics to represent public conscience and to not make value judgements but present facts in an objective manner. Thanet said one of the challenges is that Thailand, like much of Asia, has not achieved a secularisation of society. This, he said, means that the notion of morality has been used to limit freedom of expression in Thailand.

Thirayuth Boonmee, director of Sanya Thammasak Institute for Democracy, said it may be good for society if the public knows the ideological stance of academics who played the role of public intellectuals. Thirayuth also said the understanding the positives and negatives of the notion of nationalism is a big issue.

TDRI president Niphon Puapongphan said freedom from government and corporate controls is crucial for academics. “In the climate of conflicts where you don’t see much light, I believe academic freedom can shed some light. The problem facing society is becoming more complex while political solution tends to be short term and without consideration of the complexity. And as of now, I don’t see full freedom yet and there are signs that academics are fearing to make comments for fear of being branded as belonging to one side or the other.”

Chulalongkorn University sociologist Prof Surichai Wan-gaew warned, however, that despite the use of the word “national reconciliation”, what society is witnessing is more like “reconciliation war”.

TDRI reseacher director Somkiat Tangkitvanij, urged academics not to make public remarks beyond their areas of expertise and asked them to not criticise individual politicians or political parties but to scrutinise and criticise their policies and conduct instead.

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