By Grant Peck
BANGKOK (AP) — The New York Times decried limits on media freedom in Thailand on Friday after its local printer refused to publish articles about the Southeast Asian country for a third time.The printer removed a column from the opinion page of Friday’s edition of the International New York Times about Thailand’s Crown Property Bureau, which manages the financial affairs of the royal family. The column said the bureau was not publicly accountable and its assets may total as much as $53 billion.
Discussion of Thailand’s monarchy is highly sensitive, and criticism can be punished by up to 15 years in prison.
Instead of the column, the newspaper ran a blank space with a notice in the middle saying, “The article in this space was removed by our printer in Thailand. The International New York Times and its editorial staff had no role in its removal.”
On Tuesday, the Thailand edition of the newspaper had a similar blank spot on its front page where there was supposed to be a story about the country’s sagging economy and spirit a year and a half after a military takeover. The story briefly mentioned the monarchy.
A statement on the corporate website of the New York Times said the printer’s refusal to publish the articles denied readers in Thailand the right to open access to news.
“This second incident in a week clearly demonstrates the regrettable lack of press freedom in the country,” it said. “Readers in Thailand do not have full and open access to journalism, a fundamental right that should be afforded to all citizens.”
On Sept. 22, the printer didn’t publish the newspaper because of a front-page story about the monarchy.
All three stories appeared in other regional editions of the newspaper as well as online.
After a military junta took power last year, it declared that defending the monarchy was one of its priorities, but also cracked down on criticism of its rule, saying it was necessary to do so to prevent disorder. The army seized power after a period of sometimes-violent political turbulence that affected Thailand after an earlier military takeover in 2006.
Reporters as well as media managers have been summoned by the military for talks, sometimes lasting for days, called “attitude adjustment” sessions. Many of those summoned have been forced to sign statements promising not to criticize the junta.
King Bhumibol Adulyadej has ruled for 69 years and will be 88 years old this month. His ill health has heightened concerns about what will happen after his reign, but little public discussion has been allowed.
Yuth Chinsupakul, chairman of Eastern Printing Co., which prints the Times, was quoted on the website of the Manager newspaper as saying the reason the latest article was not printed was because it touched on a sensitive matter of the country’s “highest institution,” a reference to the monarchy.
The International New York Times announced last month that it will cease printing and distributing its print edition in Thailand at the end of this year, attributing the decision to the rising cost of operations. (end)