Foreign news coverage of Thai election blocked on TrueVisions

A major satellite and cable TV provider appears to have blocked the broadcasts about the Thai election of several overseas news agencies, according to reports on social media and eyewitness accounts. 

Pita Limjaroenrat

The latest case of a foreign news item to be taken off the air by TrueVisions, which is owned by one of the largest conglomerates in Thailand, appears to be the BBC’s interview of Move Forward Party leader Pita Limjaroenrat. The interview was supposed to be aired on TrueVisions earlier today, but the broadcast was replaced with blank screen with the message “Program will resume shortly,” without providing further details. 

“When will TrueVisions stop taking the liberty to block news about Thailand from foreign news outlets?” a BBC World producer based in Thailand wrote on Twitter, along with a photo showing the interruption message on a TV screen and added “Previously, the same thing happened to CNN and ABC.” This was retweeted by the BBC’s Southeast Asia Correspondent, Jonathan Head, who conducted the interview, with the question “Would True censor us if we were interviewing Prayuth?”

The interview with Pita, whose party placed first in the 14 May election, could later be easily accessed on the BBC’s English and Thai online editions. 

TrueVisions did not offer any reason for blocking the interview, but it aligns with a pattern observed with other foreign news agencies broadcasting via TrueVisions.

Multiple journalists and news producers told Prachatai English that BBC, CNN, Al Jazeera, NHK, and ABC Australia also have had their election-related news segments blocked in recent days, with the broadcasts replaced by the message "Program will resume shortly."

In contrast, similar programs were aired on AIS, another major satellite and cable TV operator in Thailand, without any issues, they said. 

The episodes left social media users musing whether the move by TrueVisions was an act of self-censorship, possibly due to concerns about negative references to the monarchy. Discussing the monarchy critically or making defamatory remarks about key members of the Royal Family is a taboo subject and a serious criminal offence in Thailand.

Under the lèse majesté or royal defamation law, which has often been broadly interpreted, such remarks can result in up to 15 years of imprisonment, even when referring to past kings.

However, a number of media professionals have noted that TrueVisions’ recent content blocking extends beyond matters directly involving the Royal Family. 

During the campaign season, Pita and the Move Forward Party expressed their commitment to amending the lèse majesté law to reduce the penalty and limit those with the right to file complaints. When a reporter recently asked Pita at a news conference on ABC Australia whether he will insist on lèse majesté reform as a condition for government coalition partners, TrueVisions immediately cut the broadcast of the conversation. 

“It’s not only about the monarchy,” Thanyarat, the BBC producer, replied to a comment on Twitter. “In the last election, I clearly remember that even just a few seconds of teaser saying Thailand was about to have an election this week … was blocked.”

The Thai Journalists Association’s Press Freedom Section has urged TrueVisions to investigate the incident and provide clarification to the public, citing concerns about the public’s constitutional rights to access news.

TrueVisions is owned by True Corporation Public Company Limited, a prominent telecommunications and media conglomerate in Thailand, which, in turn, is part of the influential CP Group.

Since General Prayut Chan-o-cha seized power in a 2014 military coup, the company has frequently censored foreign news channels’ broadcasts on Thai politics. The junta swiftly banned protests and imposed restrictions on the press, most of which were later lifted as Thailand transitioned to a quasi-civilian regime after the election in 2019.

However, TrueVisions continued to monitor and restrict content from overseas news outlets concerning Thai politics, especially during the 2020 street demonstrations that called for Prayut’s removal and comprehensive reforms of the monarchy, breaking decades of taboo.

In April 2020, the company even posted a job notice seeking “foreign news censorship officers” responsible for monitoring all 17 foreign news programmes and talk shows aired on TrueVisions, with instructions to immediately cut the signal if they encountered any “inappropriate” content.

The job notice was later removed after it drew criticism and ridicule on social media. 

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