Status: Partly Free
Legal Environment: 17 (of 30)
Political Environment: 24 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 15 (of 30)
Total Score: 56 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

Despite the new constitution's restoration of legal protections for freedom of expression, Thailand's military-led government continued to significantly restrict media freedom throughout 2007 through the passage of one of the world's harshest Internet crime laws, tight controls on the state-run broadcasting sector, and the manipulation of the media in efforts to influence the outcome of the October constitutional referendum and the long-awaited general elections on December 23. The continuation of martial law in 35 out of the country's 76 provinces for most of the year also contributed to a compromised situation for the media, especially local radio broadcasters.

2007 brought a mix of positive and negative legislative changes. The October 2006 interim constitution, which failed to explicitly protect freedom of expression, was replaced by a new constitution in October 2007 that restores and even extends the 1997 constitution's freedom of expression guarantees. Moreover, the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) replaced the country's draconian 1941 Printing and Publishing Act, which reserved the government's right to shut down media outlets, with the Publishing Registration Act in late August. The new act bears fewer restrictions as well as lighter penalties for violations. However, a new Computer Crime Act was passed in May and came into effect in July that threatens harsh punitive measures, including prison terms of up to five years, for the publication of forged or false content considered to endanger individuals, the public, or "national security" as well as the use of proxy servers to access government-restricted material. The new legislation was first invoked to bring charges against a blogger and a webmaster in late August; charges were dropped in October without explanation but watchdog groups fear the new law will have a chilling effect on online media, the country's strongest outlet for free discussion.

An amended National Security Act, officially approved in the fall, is also considered a new potential threat to press freedom as it allows an Internal Security Operations Command to use emergency powers that include suspending the media in the face of vaguely defined "new forms of threats." Meanwhile, several older laws that reserve the government's right to restrict the media to preserve public order and prevent criticism of the king, royal family or Buddhism remain in force. In October, parliament rejected proposals put forward by the NLA that would have extended the country's already restrictive lese majeste laws to include protection from criticism for children of the monarch and for the royal advisers of the country's Privy Council. Access to information is guaranteed under the new constitution "unless the disclosure of such information shall affect the security of State, public safety, interests of other persons which shall be protected, or personal data of other persons as provided by law."

Defamation legislation under the penal code is harsh and proved a favorite tool of the former Thaksin regime for silencing critical voices. Use of libel suits to silence government critics has declined since Thaksin's ouster from office yet defamation charges were brought against journalists for insults against head of the Council for National Security (CNS), coup leader, and subsequently deputy prime minister, Sonthi Boonyaratglin. In February, the news talk show of Sondhi Limthongkul – a former Thaksin critic – was cancelled after criticizing the central bank's financial policies. In April, a Bangkok court sentenced two talk show hosts to two years in prison for saying that deputy Bangkok governor Samart Ratchapolasit had taken bribes on two occasions.

The country's print media has remained largely unaffected by military rule and continued to feature a variety of coverage of the year's numerous controversial developments including suspension of the Thai Rak Thai party and the constitutional referendum. The broadcasting sector and online media have been obstructed much more significantly. On January 10, the CNS invoked Military Order No. 10, passed on September 20, 2006, urging media cooperation in promoting "peace and national unity," for the first time; it convened roughly 50 television and radio media executives to ask the country's media outlets from being used as platforms for Thaksin and his support base to launch their return. Programs that refused to cooperate were warned that they would be removed. CNN broadcasts of Thaksin were blocked the same week, and three community radio stations were closed down in May for airing interviews with Thaksin (although they were subsequently permitted to resume broadcasting).

The CNS employed the state's tight grip on the broadcasting sector to try to influence both the constitutional referendum vote in October and the legislative elections in December. While tv programs featured some debate on the referendum, the government prohibited the publication of "dissent" messages as well as calls for a "no" vote and threatened sanctions against "organized campaigns" to reject the charter. Radio commentators in the provinces were reportedly pressured to not speak out against the new constitution. As part of a host of campaign restrictions issued by the Election Commission in October, effectively intended to disadvantage smaller, newer parties, all broadcasting media outlets were prevented from hosting candidates from one party without hosting candidates from all parties. Moreover, in another – unsuccessful – attempt to prevent Thaksin's base from ultimately gaining ground in the elections, the government in March tried to prevent the launch of a pro-Thaksin news station called People's TV (TV) by denying it the internet access needed to launch. PTV, effectively the station of the People's Power Party (largely comprised of former members of Thaksin's Thai Rak Thai), managed to launch anyway but its first broadcast was instantly blocked by authorities. PTV programs continued to be blocked in subsequent months.

The CNS continued to censor the internet and block web sites deemed a threat to the military regime, including two in May that covered Thaksin in a favorable light and criticized the junta. Youtube was banned in April after airing a video deemed insulting to the king and thus a violation of the country's lese majeste laws; the ban was lifted in August when Google, the owner of Youtube, agreed to block any offensive videos.

Several press freedom watchdog groups have expressed concerns about heightened self-censorship since the September 2006 coup; while the threat of defamation charges has slightly decreased; the number of radio station closures and , particularly in television programming, and the Southeast Asia Press Alliance noted that websites typically supportive of Thaksin shifted to strictly covering the latest news. However, print and broadcast media continued to report news critical of the interim government and the CNS as well as Thaksin's statements and activities later in the year.

Radio and television remain under the control of the state – the military in 2007 – or formerly state-affiliated private businesses. Government control of the media increased in March when the Public Relations Department took over Thailand's only independent nonstate-owned broadcast television station, iTV, (formerly run by one of Thaksin's former assets) claiming that it had illegally changed its operating concession with the former prime minister's office and thus owed significant fines. First threatening to suspend it altogether, protests prompted the station's relaunch – as "Thailand's Independent Television" – with government funds. The internet is accessed by approximately 13 percent of the Thai population. Government censorship of the internet has occurred since 2003, largely to prevent circulation of pornography or illegal products; after the coup, internet censorship shifted to prohibiting potentially disruptive political messages, while sites considered a threat to national security, including those of Muslim separatist groups, continue to be blocked in light of persistent violence in the south.

This is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.