Bangkok: No bid to curb foreign media

Thai govt says journalists being categorised, following reports of visas being denied

Amid concerns of a press crackdown, Thailand's government has denied it is curbing foreign media, saying it is only trying to categorise different types of journalists.

"There is no intention of restricting," Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) spokesman Sek Wannamethee told The Straits Times.

"The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is in the process of drafting guidelines to categorise persons eligible for the media visa," he said in an interview in the wake of reports of foreign journalists being denied visas or having their visa categories changed. "That is ongoing, bearing in mind the scope as to who constitutes a foreign journalist. We'd just like to reassure that the MFA continues to stress there is no intention of restricting."

The interview followed a meeting with members of the board of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand (FCCT).

"The FCCT has been very concerned over the increased difficulties reported by a number of foreign journalists in obtaining or renewing their accreditation in Thailand, and by the outright rejection of some journalists' media visas," said Mr Jonathan Head, BBC correspondent and outgoing FCCT president.

 "We are urging the Thai authorities to recognise the benefit a diverse foreign media community brings to the country."

Reporters sans Frontieres in its 2015 Press Freedom Index released in November ranked Thailand 134th out of 180 countries.  Thailand's media had been "hounded" by the junta since the May 2014 coup, it said.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o- cha's attitude towards Thai journalists has been notoriously testy. At an event earlier this week, he castigated journalists present, saying: "I understand everything because I read! Are you reading anything? Have you read anything that the government is doing something good?"

Senior South-east Asia representative with the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Shawn Crispin said press freedom had deteriorated "precipitously" since the military coup. "CPJ is concerned that the junta is now starting to take hard aim at the foreign media, with rising reports that the authorities have refused to renew foreign reporters' visas and press credentials."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 06, 2016, with the headline 'Bangkok: No bid to curb foreign media'. Print Edition | Subscribe