PHUKET (AFP & Gazette reporters): In an address to the Phuket Reporters Club last night, Governor CEO Pongpayome Vasaputi declared his support for freedom of expression in the press. Reporters are not obligated to write only good things about government, he said, noting that criticisms were both “normal” and expected. The governor received a thundering round of applause, apparently in gratitude for the contrast between his views and those of the current government in Bangkok where Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra earned sharp rebukes today from two international media watchdogs. The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters sans Frontieres (Reporters Without Borders – RSF) urged the prime minister to abandon his campaign against freedom of the press, saying that Thailand’s reputation as a strong democracy had been jeopardised by the current series of actions against local and foreign media. They specifically called upon the premier to reverse his administration’s decision yesterday to prohibit criticism of the government on either Radio FM 90.5 or UBC Channel 8, both of which receive their content under contract with the Nation News Centre. FM 90.5 is owned by Thailand’s defence ministry. “This appears to be the latest in a series of moves designed to stifle the country’s free press, one of the cornerstones of Thai democracy,” CPJ executive director Ann Cooper said in an open letter. The Nation group said yesterday that it would pull political coverage from its television and radio stations because of harassment and censorship by the government. “There will be no political coverage. If we cannot produce political commentary programs without censorship, then we will not run anything on politics,” said Pana Janviroj, editor of The Nation newspaper. “Thailand is becoming a country where freedom of speech is limited to those willing to admire the emperor’s clothes,” The Nation wrote in an editorial, adding that an “ominous atmosphere” had settled over the country. A series of attacks on its independence “has convinced us that the once-cherished freedom of expression Thailand – something we all have been proud of for years – is no more,” it said. The latest clampdowns unleashed a flurry of criticism in both the Thai and English-language media, with senators and other senior officials condemning the moves as “direct intimidation” and “abuse of authority”. Today’s Bangkok Post, in an editorial titled “And now a word from the censor”, lamented the “apparent indifference of Mr Thaksin to the matter of freedom of the press”. It went on to note that the Thai Journalists Association wants Thaksin to “declare openly and unequivocally” whether or not his government supports that freedom “as enshrined in the constitution”.
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