Thai journalists have called on the country’s powerful military not to pressure the media after uniformed soldiers protested outside a television station over comments critical of Thai Army Chief Prayuth Chan-O-Cha.
The Thai Journalists Association (TJA), which comprises representatives from the kingdom’s newspapers, raised concerns on Saturday after about 30 troops held a two-day protest calling for an apology.
“The TJA calls for the army to stop interfering in the media in any way. If the media cannot work independently, the public will not get complete information and facts,” it said in a statement.
Thailand’s military, which has a long history of intervening in politics, including a string of coups, said it had instructed the soldiers involved to end their protest.
“The army chief said ... ‘We have to forgive, not create more conflict,’” Thai army spokesman Colonel Sansern Kaewkamnerd told reporters.
However, he rejected claims of media interference.
“They didn’t do anything except express their opinions. They did not hurt anybody or close the entrance of the headquarters,” Kaewkamnerd said.
The rally was against the normally pro-military Asia Satellite television station, owned by the founder of arch-nationalist “Yellow Shirt” movement, Sondhi Limthongkul.
Groups aligned to the Yellows — archrivals of the “Red Shirts” and ousted Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, brother of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra — have called for the army to flex its muscles more strongly.
Thailand has been deeply divided since a 2006 coup by royalist generals toppled Thaksin from power, with rivalry between the Yellows and the mainly rural, working-class Reds spilling into occasional bloodshed.
Chan-O-Cha is reported to have overseen the military crackdown on a Red Shirts rally in Bangkok in April and May 2010 that left more than 90 people dead, but has since shown willingness to work with the Red-backed government.