(Reuters) – Thailand’s military authorities are setting up a network of panels to closely monitor domestic and international media and crack down on criticism of what the junta sees as its efforts to right the country, a senior officer said on Thursday.
Rights groups and journalists have criticized curbs imposed on the press since the May 22 bloodless coup the military says was aimed at ending six months of street protests and political paralysis.
Adul Saengsingkaew, deputy head of the National Council of Peace and Order, said the military would monitor reports that were false or posed a threat to national security.
Offenders who refused to cooperate could face charges.
“There will be five committees set up to monitor local and international media that will report to the military daily,” Adul, a former national police chief, told Reuters by telephone.
“Police will not pursue legal action against media so long as journalists are cooperative and help share news that is constructive and true. Those that spread inappropriate content may face criminal charges.”
He expressed particular concern about reporting on the activities of a government-in-exile that launched a campaign of civil disobedience this week, almost certainly based in a neighboring country.
Officials have made little comment on the group, saying only that there is only one legitimate government.
Junta spokesman Winthai Suvaree said the panels were not intended to restrict Thais’ access to information.
Instead, he said, they would help the state make the truth known faster. “We won’t close or obstruct the public’s right to know truthful news,” he added. “We ask for cooperation to write balanced and appropriate news.”
The military has shut hundreds of “inappropriate websites”, radio stations and television channels since the coup.
It has promised to install a government by September and stage elections in a little more than a year, but says it must first ensure stability. The United States and European Union denounced the takeover and halted cooperation programs.
Data released on Thursday showed exports and factory output fell more than expected in May, showing that the economy remains weak and underscoring the tough task the military faces.
Further battered by lower tourist arrivals, the economy shrank 2.1 percent in January-March over the previous quarter.
The Thai Journalists Association, in a statement on its website on Wednesday, said it was worried about the action against the media. “It could impact the information the public receives and be an obstacle to our work,” it added.
Hundreds of political figures, activists, academics and business people have been detained. Most were promptly released and told to steer clear of politics and public statements.
Opponents have staged a few minor protests, quickly broken up by security forces. Some largely unco-ordinated “silent protesters” were briefly rounded up.
Most of those detained had links to the ousted government of Yingluck Shinawatra and her exiled brother Thaksin, who handed out social benefits to disadvantaged northern regions during more than five years as premier. He was deposed in a 2006 coup.
Yingluck was ordered by a court on May 7 to step down for abuse of power. The rump cabinet that remained was removed in the military takeover.
Protesters opposed to the Shinawatras and linked to the royalist elite in Bangkok led six months of protests to topple Yingluck’s government. At least 30 people died in periodic outbursts of violence.
The junta has proclaimed national unity through “love and reconciliation” as its main aim. Round-the-clock radio and television broadcasts lionise the army’s virtues.
A song the junta says was written by coup leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha, with lyrics such as “We will act with honesty and just ask that you trust us”, is played at the top of the hour on most broadcast stations.
(Additional reporting by Pracha Hariraksapitak; Editing by Ron Popeski and Clarence Fernandez)