Thailand ‘Red Shirt’ leader rails against pro-democracy TV ban threat
The leader of Thailand’s ‘Red Shirt’ movement hit out Tuesday at plans to take his pro-democracy television network off the air, in the latest strike against freedom of expression in the military-ruled kingdom.
The National Telecommunication Commission (NTC), Thailand’s media regulator, has said it plans to suspend the broadcasting license for Peace TV, which features a daily program by Jatuporn Prompan, chairman of the Red Shirts, whose votes helped to elect the toppled administration of Yingluck Shinawatra.
Regulators accuse Peace TV of failing to abide by an agreement with junta officials that it stay clear of politics.
On Monday, NTC commissioner Natee Sukonrat said Peace TV would be banned because the network is “still airing content that leads to conflicts.”
The move comes as the Red Shirt movement prepares to mark a 2010 military crackdown on protests that left more than 90 dead, the majority demonstrators.
Pro- democracy campaigners are also likely to try to mark the anniversary of last year’s coup on May 22.
Speaking on the channel, Jatuporn denied causing divisions and threatened to take the media regulators to court if his show was unplugged.
“There was no message causing division in the entire program. I keep telling people to be patient and not to leave this theater until the movie has ended,” he said.
“I will fight until the end ... At the end of the day it’s difficult to be good boy in this country,” he added.
The country’s sharply polarized political channels were one of the first casualties of the censorship imposed following the declaration of martial law and the coup last May.
But a ban on them was lifted around three months later on the condition they stayed away from controversial issues or criticizing the military regime.
Since the coup last May, leaders of the Red Shirts, officially known as the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD), have either renounced the cause, fled into self-exile or — like Jatuporn — agreed to abandon politics.
Jatuporn’s once rabble-rousing television rhetoric was staple viewing in the Red heartlands of northern Thailand where Yingluck — and her billionaire brother Thaksin Shinawatra — are adored for their pro-poor policies.
Under junta rules Peace TV had toned-down its tirades against the Bangkok-based elite but in recent months Jatuporn has spoken more directly against the ruling regime.
In early April the network was taken off the air for seven days following a spat with the military over its content.
Thailand has been riven by bitter political divisions since 2006, when Thaksin’s government was ousted in an earlier military coup, backed by the Bangkok-based royalist establishment.
They despise the Shinawatras — whose parties have won every election since 2001 — accusing them of poisoning politics with populism, corruption and cronyism.
“Yellow Shirt” or anti-Thaksin channels were also taken off air after the coup with several rebranding themselves once the ban was lifted.