The end of Abhisit Vejjajiva’s tenure as Prime Minister should be celebrated. Nearly every measurement of freedom of speech, civic, and human rights plummeted since he was placed in charge by the Thai military in December 2008. One of his most visible failures was press freedom where he continuously denied Thailand’s citizens this basic right in order for him to remain in power.
A free press is the symbol of a free people. An independent, well-informed press is a powerful check on arbitrary governments and irresponsible administrators. For the news media are agents of the public, which bring to the notice of the people acts of injustice or oppression, or mal-administration that would otherwise have remained hidden away from public knowledge.
Even the most powerful autocrat, like Abhisit was, is forced to take note of public opinion as reflected in a free press. That is why a regimented press is the instrument of autocracy, and why a dictator deprived Thailand of its press freedom.
This depravation of press freedom in Thailand under Abhisit’s regime can actually be measured using the annual Press Freedom Index Reports compiled and published by the media rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The Press Freedom Index is an annual ranking of countries based upon RSF’s assessment of their press freedom records. These reports are published every year, usually in October, and is based on a questionnaire sent to partner organizations of RSF (14 freedom of expression groups in five continents) and its 130 correspondents around the world, as well as to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.
The survey asks questions about direct attacks on journalists and the media as well as other indirect sources of pressure against the free press. RSF is careful to note that the index only deals with press freedom, and does not measure the quality of journalism. In the Press Freedom Index, the lower the evaluation score the freer the country.
Below are Thailand’s Press Index scores and rankings for every year since 2002.
Plotting these scores and rankings better illustrates the dramatic slide of Press Freedom in Thailand during Abhisit’s reign.
A plot of the Press Freedom Index rankings for Thailand shows a similarly alarming trend.
In 2010, Thailand slipped 23 places to the ranking of 153rd on the press freedom index. This is mainly due to Abhisit’s decision to shut down much of the opposition media and for killing two journalists and wounding some fifteen others while they covered the army massacre of innocent protesters in Bangkok in April and May of last year.
Another incident which contributed to the lowest Press Freedom ranking in Thailand’s history was the decision by Abhisit to have a military sniper assassinate pro-democracy General Khattiya Sawatdiphol (aka Seh Daeng) during an interview with a New York Times reporter on May 13, 2010.
Although the 2011 Press Freedom Index won’t be out until October, it is anticipated that Thailand’s score and ranking will still be miserably low due to the authoritarian policies of Abhisit against the press. For instance, he has shut down dozens of radio stations and has imprisoned Somyot Pruksakasemsuk, an editor of a magazine which opposed the authoritarian policies of Abhisit.
But there is a light on the horizon and the future looks bright for Thailand with regards to freedom of press. The policies of the new democratically elected Prime Minister, Yingluck Shinawatra, are expected to put an end to Thailand’s “slide into the abyss” caused by Abhisit Vejjajiva.