Bangkok, 26th September 2023— "Media Transformation in Shifting Scenarios," a public forum organised by Prachatai, took note of the challenging landscape faced by mass media workers in an age of political polarisation. Media professionals continue to face multiple threats, from legal restrictions and surveillance to censorship and risks to personal safety. These challenges, in turn, have had a significant impact on media workers’ freedom of expression. The seminar raises a crucial question: following the change of government, can meaningful change be anticipated?
The forum provided an overview of media industry working conditions against the backdrop of political change in the 2014-23 period. It highlighted instances where media rights and journalistic freedoms were violated. Discussions ranged from physical assaults and legal proceedings to the limited protection media workers received from their respective organisations.
Asst. Prof. Dr. Phansasiri Kularb from Chulalongkorn University's Faculty of Communication Arts presented a paper on "Media Reporting on Protests: The Role of Thai Mass Media in Demonstrations and Political Violence (2014-2022)." The research documented the risks faced by field journalists covering major protests in Thailand between 1992 to 2020. Among other things, it revealed that crowd control police prior to 2020 were less intrusive and confrontational when compared to their actions during the 2020 Ratsadon Movement.
Teeranai Charuvastra, a journalist and coordinator for the Press Freedom Monitoring in Southeast Asia project (PFMSea), discussed violations of online media freedoms between December 2022 and September 2023. In his presentation, he noted that journalists outside Bangkok were far more likely to face severe violence in non-protest-related incidents.
Ruchapong Chamjirachaikul from iLaw noted that journalists and activists are at risk from state surveillance. While monitoring the use of Pegasus spyware in Thailand, he found evidence involving 35 local targets, confirming government surveillance capabilities. Broader investigations were hindered by technical limitations. Legal hurdles, in turn, make it difficult to identify which agencies have access to these tools, as lawsuits against met with delays in court. Ruchapong noted, however, that the use of Pegasus stifles freedom of expression and endangers whistleblowers, leading to rights violations and a climate of fear.
The forum emphasised the importance of enhanced safety and improved working conditions for journalists. This included freelancers who often operate in precarious situations with minimal compensation. Participants acknowledged the need for accessible legal support channels, particularly for smaller media outlets without sufficient resources, to help journalists effectively tackle issues related to physical harm and litigation resulting from their work.
The forum urged the new government to express clear support for media rights and freedoms in the hope that relevant state agencies follow suit.
Panelists also proposed the creation of a systematic media monitoring database to detect rights violations and facilitate the development of strategies to counter evolving intimidation tactics. The new government was called upon uphold media freedoms in keeping with constitutional provisions and when using force for purposes of crown control, to strictly adhere to a policy of necessity, proportionality, and accountability.