Thailand: Where Exporting Free Press Is An Issue

The Thai printer of the International New York Times refused to publish the Tuesday, September 22, edition because of a front page story about the health of the Thai king. Seems the printer thought the story insulted the king, and such insults are forbidden by law.

Thai printers refuse to publish New York Times edition over article about king

Roy Greenslade at The Guardian has a wonderful piece on how this episode shows the difficulties in promoting press freedom around the world.

Thai ban on New York Times shows difficulty of exporting press freedom

Strict lèse-majesté laws in Thailand crimimalise those who are adjudged to have defamed or insulted members of the royal family.

So a factual front-page NY Times article reporting that 87-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej is in declining health and that the succession is in doubt was deemed too sensitive to allow to appear in print.

Thailand’s ministry of information has form in terms of censorship. It has blocked blogs and news websites, including Mail Online, for articles that refer to the colourful private life of Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who has been divorced and/or separated (no-one is sure which) from three wives.

Over the past year, there has been a significant increase in lèse-majesté convictions. But they are hardly new. In 2002, a local distributor of the The Economist withheld its publication because it made an “inappropriate” reference to the monarchy.

The  Times made it clear the decision not to publish came from the local printer and was not endorsed by the Times.

Basic information about the leadership of a country is considered standard fare in countries with free press, but not so much in other places.

We already know how news about the health of Chinese government leaders is treated like a state secret. (The Soviet Union was the same way, in the bad old days of the Cold War.)

Now a printer in Thailand is taking its reverence for its king to an extreme illogical point by not publishing a newspaper that has factual information about the health of the monarch. And, let us not even go into the whole restrictions on free speech that lèse-majesté imposes on the Thai people and visitors to Thailand.


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