In reaction to the ongoing and violent anti-government “red shirt” protests, the ruling Democrat Party of the Thailand has ordered a broad range of media outlets connected to the pro-Thaksin United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (or UDD) shut down. This sweep delivered gag orders to radio stations, the satellite television network D Station and at least 67 political websites with links to the UDD.
The picture of what’s happening on the ground has been blurred by the barring or mistreatment of journalists by both sides. The ruling party, seized by crisis fever, is locking down any media perceived to be “inciting violence” with the unintended consequence, as Reporters without Borders put it, of increasing the “climate of fear” around Bangkok. The Thaksin demonstrators (see here for TwitPic updates and images of the unrest) have not been entirely innocent either, reportedly roughing up several TV crews and expelling reporters from the protests.
The government’s reaction is premised on a heavy handed survival impulse. It’s true, some of the protests have descended into violence, and the perception that social chaos is being spread by pro-Thaksin media probably has truth to it. On the other hand, punitive media-unfriendly martial law seems unlikely to assuage the supporters of a movement who feel wrongfully ousted by the 2006 coup and the banning of the PPP back in December 2008 (for more of the run up to this conflict, read this). Now, adding to the uncertainty of the social fabric, blue shirts, evidently supported by royalists, have joined the fray.
Nor is the unaligned portion of the Thai public likely to take kindly to the broad and hysterical censorship crack-down, which risks making the “red shirts” more powerful or bringing the military storming back in. In a recent interview with Der Spiegel, Thaksin himself, exiled for the past three years in Dubai, has urged aging king Bhumibol Adulyadej to intervene and encourage reconciliation. The king, revered by the Thais, has been charateristically silent.
UPDATE: Evidently MICT, the Thai telecommunications authority, has lifted the emergency decree on websites related to the “red shirt” cause. The list of formerly blocked websites is here. Freedom Against Censorship Thailand, a WordPress blog which agitates for free internet speech remains somewhat inexplicably blocked by Thai ISPs.