JAKARTA, Indonesia

Media organizations in Thailand on Tuesday called on the government to respect freedom of the press, as five media outlets face legal action for breaching emergency laws.

Any form of media freedom suppression by any side is unacceptable, the National Press Council of Thailand, the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand, the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, Online News Providers Association, and the National Union of Journalists Thailand said in a joint statement.

“We urge the government not to abuse the law by silencing the media,” the organizations said.

In a separate statement, the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand said it was “deeply concerned” by the censorship.

It said such actions make the government appear oppressive or unresponsive towards critics, and could lead to more public anger.

“Bona fide journalists should be allowed to report important developments without the threat of bans, suspensions, censorship, and prosecution,” said the foreign correspondents’ club .

The statements came after authorities ordered regulators on Monday to take down content by four media outlets – Voice TV, Prachatai, The Standard, and The Reporters – and a Facebook page of a protest group.

The content was deemed to be a threat to national security and in violation of emergency laws that bar the dissemination of information that affects national security and “good morals” of the people.

Representatives of the groups insist they did not break any laws and will carry on their operations.

‘Curbing chaos’

The Thai government, though, has defended its move against media groups.

Buddhipongse Punnakanta, minister of digital economy and society (DES), said none of the five media outlets have been banned.

He explained that there was no restriction on live-streaming of anti-government protests, but controversial speeches and defamatory remarks should be avoided.

Putchapong Nodthaisong, DES Ministry’s deputy permanent secretary, said authorities examined social media posts from Oct. 13 to Oct. 18 and found over 324,000 items that violated the computer crime and emergency laws.

The country’s police chief, Gen. Suwat Jangyodsuk, said the media inspection order was aimed at curbing content that could incite chaos.

He also stressed that no media outlets have been shut down until now.

Thailand has been gripped by mass protests since July, calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who is a former army chief.

Protesters have also called for reforms to the monarchy, dissolution of the parliament, and freedom to criticize the government.

* Writing by Maria Elisa Hospita in Jakarta

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