The New York Times decried curbs on press freedom in Thailand after a printer, for the second time this week, censored the international edition of the paper and kept the space blank where an article on Thai royal wealth was supposed to go.
“This … clearly demonstrates the regrettable lack of press freedom in the country. Readers in Thailand do not have full and open access to journalism, a fundamental right that should be afforded to all citizens,” the paper said.
But Eastern Printing PCL, the printer, said the story, which was to appear in a column, was too “sensitive” to run. The article called for greater transparency at the Crown Property Bureau which controls the monarchy’s institutional assets worth about $53 billion.
Instead of the column, the printer left a huge chunk of space blank with a notice in the middle saying he had removed the article and the paper and its editors have no role in it.
The latest curb came on the eve of celebrations to mark the 88th birthday of King Bhumibol Adulyadej who is undergoing treatment in a Bangkok hospital and has not appeared in public since September 1.
In Thailand, the King is much revered and any criticism of the monarchy invites jail sentences of up to 15 years under lese-majesty laws.
On Tuesday, a front page story on Thailand’s flagging economy with a mention on the king’s frail health was censored and replaced with the same message.
Both stories were, however, accessible in Thailand via the newspaper’s website and were widely circulated.
Eastern Printing decided not to print the stories for fear of upsetting advertisers or shareholders, or attracting punitive lawsuits, the company chairman, Yuth Chinsupakul, said.
In September, the printer declined to produce the entire newspaper rather than print a story that later appeared online under the headline, “With King in Declining Health, Future of Monarchy in Thailand is Uncertain.”
Chinsupakul denied the company had come under pressure from Thailand’s junta, which seized power in May 2014 and has doled out record jail sentences of up to 60 years for lese-majesty offences.
Eastern Printing’s actions underscored an “all-pervasive culture of fear” around the reporting of Thailand’s monarchy, said Shawn Crispin, south-east Asia representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists.
“The printer is effectively doing the government’s censorship for them,” he said.
After a military junta took power last year, it declared that defending the monarchy was one of its priorities, but also cracked down on criticism of its rule, saying it was necessary to do so to prevent disorder.
Reporters as well as media managers have been summoned by the military for talks, sometimes lasting for days, called “attitude adjustment” sessions.
Many of those summoned have been forced to sign statements promising not to criticize the junta.