Thailand’s foreign minister has a message for local foreign correspondents: Butt out.
In a meeting with Thailand-based foreign press Tuesday, Don Pramudwinai reportedly suggested they should stop reporting on the ongoing pro-democracy protests.
“Tell them: ‘Hey you, go and do something more useful for yourself,” he reportedly said.
Commenters were quick to blast Don over his “mind your own business” suggestion: “I think he meant to say: Can all foreigners look the other way whilst this dictatorship violates Thais’ human rights and freedom of speech?” observed one in an online comment.
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha the same day echoed similar sentiments. In response to a question foreign press coverage of about the government’s campaign of intimidation and spying against student-led mass protests, the 2014 coup said he had never interfered in the affairs of other countries, implying that he expected the same from foreign media organizations.
Prayut’s government has been facing protests daily by thousands of young Thais, including high school students, who have been calling on it to resign, saying it lacked legitimacy for not having been elected in a free and fair election.
Complicating local journalists’ work have been open call s for reform of the monarchy, which enjoys supra-constitutional powers. Any criticism of Thailand’s royals has long been taboo with a draconian lese majeste law prohibiting any criticisms of the monarchy with a penalty of 15 years in prison a charge.
“I mean I had never expected to hear this issue being discussed on the stage amid the crowd like that,” said Thapanee Eadsrichai, a Thai television reporter who cofounded the online news platform “The Reporters”. “Once I listened to the students’ declaration, I asked myself ‘In what way can I report it?'”
What’s telling, however, is that government officials seem more concerned with their image aboard than at home.
“If there is one thing these guys really don’t like, it is bad press abroad,” a Thailand-based journalist told UCA News. “They want to have this image of Thailand [abroad] as the Land of Smiles where all is well and everyone is happy and they hate it when [negative media reports] rock the boat.”
Continue reading the full version of this story on UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.