Asia - Pacific
Thailand
-
Index 2022
115/180
Score : 50.15
Political indicator
81
58.99
Economic indicator
77
45.24
Legislative indicator
142
47.37
Social indicator
137
53.67
Security indicator
127
45.50
Index 2021
137/180
Score : 54.78
N/A
Indicators not available because the calculation method was changed in 2022

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s vision of the media speaks volumes about their plight. He said journalists should “play a major role in supporting the government's affairs”.

Media landscape

Like Thai society itself, the media landscape is very polarised. On the one hand, the mainstream media, such as the daily Thai Rath, toe the government line. On the other hand, lower profile media try to provide an alternative point of view and, because of this, they are faced with  harassment by the authorities. Such is the case with Voice TV, which was founded by an opposition leader and which is regularly threatened with suspension. It applies even more to online media such as Prachatai and The Reporters, which must wage a constant battle to keep providing reliable news and information.

Political context

The long-promised elections held in March 2019 made no difference regarding the total control of the media wielded by the elite surrounding Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the army general responsible for the 2014 coup, who is now prime minister, defence minister and chief of the Royal Thai Police. The “general-prime minister” takes to the radio and TV airwaves every Friday evening to promote his views.

Legal framework

The possibility of a lèse-majesté charge, which is very broadly defined in article 112 of Thailand’s penal code and is punishable by up to 15 years in prison, is a permanent threat hanging over every media outlet. Defamation and cybercrime laws are also systematically used to harass journalists, who­ – if prosecuted – are forced to incur exorbitant legal fees. The government has also imposed a “code of conduct” under which it can suspend the licences of media outlets that threaten “public decency”.

Economic context

Although apparently independent of the government, Thailand’s leading media outlets are owned by a handful of oligarchs with direct links to the royal family, the armed forces and the ubiquitous General Prayut. Conversely, the pro-opposition media were created with funding from businessmen close to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, who now lives in self-imposed exile. The development of new methods of participatory financing is enabling the emergence of new websites that are less subject to the control of their funders.

Sociocultural context

The message is clear: either journalists censor themselves carefully or they expose themselves to charges of undermining “national security” or “peace and order”, which can lead directly to imprisonment. The climate of widespread fear was palpable during the big pro-democracy street protests in 2020. The media that support the ruling elite took great care not to mention them at all, while the alternative media, when alluding to them, had to weigh each term used very carefully to avoid exposing themselves to reprisals.

Safety

In Thailand, journalists need to be aware that any criticism of the government could cause a draconian response made possible by a judicial system that does the government’s bidding. Since the 2014 coup, dozens of journalists and bloggers have been forced to choose between imprisonment and self-imposed exile. Those convicted of lèse-majesté are systematically mistreated in prison.

Abuses in real time in Thailand

Killed since 1 Jan 2022
0 journalists
0 media workers
0
Currently in prison
2 journalists
0 media workers
2