Compared to other countries of Southeast Asia, the media in Thailand are relatively free. The Constitution guarantees freedom of expression and freedom of the press. But the unstable political climate of the country contributes towards making the media highly partisan, rather than neutral. However, the main concern of the Thai media at present is the fact that the broadcast sector continues to be controlled by state and government enterprises like the military and the navy. Though the revised Constitutions of 1997 and 2007 acknowledged airwaves as public property, the distribution and ownership of frequencies remains problematic. However, in practice the government does not interfere directly with the operation of broadcast media, the production of content too is outsourced to private companies. The influence and interference of advertisers is stronger than that of the state and the coverage of news is often affected by economic constraints. As a result of the commercialised character, superficially there seems no significant difference in the quality of news produced by the state and private broadcasters. The print media are privately owned and are known to produce more critical reporting than the broadcast sector, though some Thai newspapers indulge in high degree of sensationalism. The freedom of the print media is affected to some extent by the country’s defamation law, which is criminalised under the Penal Code. Expensive lawsuits against the print journalists were very common during the rule of former Prime Minister Thaksin Sinawatra. Though the media are unabashedly critical of the political parties and government, there remains heavy self-censorship on the subject of monarchy and judiciary. This is encouraged by the Lese Majeste law that protects the monarchy. The Internet witnesses critical commentary on various pertinent issues including the power of the monarchy but its freedom has been heavily affected in recent times by criminal defamation and the lese-majesty laws.
Media Accountability System
Media activism in Thailand can be traced back to 1997 when efforts of reform were initiated through amendment of the Constitution. The next decade saw campaigning by various interest groups as political and commercial interference stalled the process of media reform. This period saw the rise of the National Press Council of Thailand, journalist associations like Thai Journalist Association and Thai Broadcast Journalist Association and civil society groups like Campaign for Popular Media Reform, Media Monitor and Thai Netizen Network. While the Press Council of Thailand addresses only the print media, a broadcasting council was established in 2009 for self-regulation of the broadcast media.