Kicking out foreign media will come back to haunt us: The Nation

Thai reporter Mutita Chuachang (left) being applauded by AFP's Asia Pacific director Philippe Massonnet (centre) and Rachel Miller during the award ceremony of the AFP Kate Webb Prize at the Foreign Correspondent Club Thailand on Dec 1, 2015.
Thai reporter Mutita Chuachang (left) being applauded by AFP's Asia Pacific director Philippe Massonnet (centre) and Rachel Miller during the award ceremony of the AFP Kate Webb Prize at the Foreign Correspondent Club Thailand on Dec 1, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

In its editorial on Feb 28, the paper warns that the nation's crackdown on foreign correspondents and freelance contributors paints Thailand in a very dim light.

Thai policy makers, dictators, military leaders or what have you have never learned how to handle criticism from the international press and the recently issued regulation for foreign media reflects that long-standing mindset.

The stated requirement - that foreign media representatives must demonstrate their attitude towards the monarchy and political development in the country - eats into one's personal space.

It's like the government is trying to delve into the heart and soul of a person and make it a requirement before they be granted visa and permit to work in the Kingdom.

The idea behind this new regulation is to prevent negative reporting about Thailand.

Of course every government wants sympathetic ears from the press. But to try to engineer this outcome is somewhat absurd because it misses the whole point for free speech.

This is a job for public relations firms and spin doctors. And if the Thai government doesn't have the sophistication to take such route, they need to take a long good look at themselves and ask why they take up public service in the first place.

Of late, some journalists who have been working in Thailand for decades have been rejected when seeking to renew their journalist visa.

Freelance journalists have reasons to be concerned because the way this whole thing is going, eventually, only major global news agencies will be permitted to stay in the country.

Thailand should understand that the media has changed dramatically over the past decade because of the rise of online platforms. Operations have become quite expensive and many major papers have scaled back their operations.

To fill in the gap, freelance writers, photographers, and video producers are hired by these major news agencies.

Thai officials could say don't make your problem my problem. But the whole point here - our officials have never been sympathetic to these changes in the media. But at the same time, they expect - and in this case, demand - sympathy from the foreign media.

For decades, Thailand has been a good hub for foreign journalists. Rent is affordable, food is good, and there are lots of connecting flights for correspondents to hop on and be on location for an assignment.

Needless to say, this was an asset for Thailand. A vibrant media reflects well on our open-mindedness.

But with this latest regulation, all that is changing. The regulation will do nothing more than eat into the historic relations between the regime in Bangkok and the foreign media who are based here.

A free and independent media environment generates a positive atmosphere for the country.

But sadly, Thai policy makers, especially the current junta, do not have the sophistication to deal with criticism. So the bottom line of this absurd regulation is that if you're not going to be nice to me, I'm not going to let you live here.

Think of all the vibrant discussions at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT). VIPs from around the world who come through Bangkok often make a stop at the club.

It would be sad for Thailand and a big setback for the country if this is no longer the case.

For the time being, a dark cloud hovers over this setting.

We really hope that is a temporary thing and that soon the authorities will come to their senses - and realise that what they are doing is more harm than good.

Officially, the government says it is trying to weed out "fake" journalists from "real" journalists. Well, that's fine and dandy. But the way they are going about it raises serious questions about their real intention.

* The Nation is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 newspapers.