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There are times when some incidents in Thailand remind this writer of another society in a land far away. This was the case when virtually every mainstream mass media ignored certain "wires" about Thailand that were carried in WikiLeaks.

On December 15, a friend called urging me to read WikiLeaks reports on the ruling elite, links for which were available on the online version of England's Guardian newspaper.

"Do it before it gets blocked," was my friend's instruction.

A few days later, out of sheer curiosity, I called another fellow journalist, asking what had happened to an online article reportedly quoting former premier Samak Sundaravej's thoughts on the 2006 coup that appeared on her newspaper's website only to mysteriously disappear soon after.

The answer I got was vague. But one thing was clear - our mobile phones might be tapped.

"I can tell when the sound starts breaking with noisy interference," she opined.

To be fair, a few commentaries were written to criticise, albeit with great subtlety, the self-censorship of the mainstream Thai media regarding WikiLeaks.

This writer will not try to discuss this subject either, because that might lead to this article never seeing the light of the day.

Elsewhere, beyond the realm of the mainstream media, Thai Red News, a red-shirt mobile-phone SMS service, said on December 17: "Many Netizens have rushed online to access The Guardian website for an in-depth look at WikiLeaks reports."

It did not even say which country this report was on, though the name can be safely guessed without breaking the lese majeste law.

Later, there were more leaks about the future of a certain institution from the views of two privy councillors and former premier Anand Panyarachun - again, none were reported. Then there was the conversation between the 2006 coup leader General Sondhi Boonyakalin and a former US ambassador to Thailand.

While the mainstream media kept mum, many - but not all - members of the public were alerted. Another friend told me her parents, both die-hard royalists, had no clue whatsoever about this issue because they only subscribed to mainstream media.

It is also unclear how effective alternative news networks such as will be in disseminating information to the wider public on the matter.

So here we are, approaching 2011, supposedly in an era of borderless, instantaneous information and yet many Thais still have no clue about news that should be on the front page of every newspaper and every television channel's breaking news bulletin.

It is at moments like this that Thailand reminds me of North Korea - a secretive authoritarian society where censorship is the norm, where people are too afraid to speak publicly about certain issues and where paranoia about the state listening in is widespread.

I am sure many people will object to this comparison. To be honest, in many regards there is no comparison. Thailand is "committed" to being a democracy, or so our political leaders kept telling us, while North Korea's Orwellian nature is much easier to detect.

But then, in a way, it is scarier to be living in Thailand, where the society is seemingly free but is not actually free and where censorship and self-censorship operates in a more effective and subtle way than in North Korea. In the end, there is no prison more frightening than one that its occupants are not quite aware of.

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