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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Prachatai defies attempts to silence its message

Website's staff are in good spirits despite growing pressure from authorities

First the police raided the Prachatai online news outlet's offices and took the website director into custody. Then the website was shut down by the government.

Last Friday, the same director was arrested at Suvarnabhumi airport and taken 450 kilometres for interrogation at a Khon Kaen police station on charges of lese majeste and violating the Computer Crime Act.

Despite the problems over the past two years with the authorities, the morale of Prachatai website director Chiranuch Premchaiporn and her team remains high. This is despite financial problems that have sometimes caused delays in paying staff wages.

Their high spirits reflect the vibrancy of the Prachatai website, which continues to provide news updates, special reports, exclusive interviews, opinion pieces and video clips on various topics, including politics, the role of the monarchy, labour rights, conflicts over natural resources and international issues.

The website's name has been changed from to after the first one was shut down by the Centre for Resolution of the Emergency Situation during the red shirt rally in April-May.

Prachatai has about a dozen staff, including the website director, editor-in-chief, webmaster and seven reporters _ five based in Bangkok and one each in the North and the South.
The website rents office space from the Thai Volunteer Service, a non-governmental organisation, in the Huai Khwang area.

"We will run it until the end," Ms Chiranuch told the Bangkok Post. "I and my team are all in good spirits. We will try to do our best under this tough time for all media professionals.
"But, of course, some of our staff are starting to feel that the attempts to silence Prachatai are for real." was founded by former senator Jon Ungpakorn in 2004. Its aim was to criticise the Thaksin Shinawatra government's populist policies and its interference in the media.

After the Sept 19, 2006 coup, became a popular online forum for anti-coup groups.

During the red shirt demonstrations, Prachatai harshly criticised the Abhisit Vejjajiva's government's handling of the protest and provided information about the red shirt movement from different angles to the mainstream media, which mostly took the side of the government.

Several prominent social critics and activists have contributed content to Prachatai, making the website stand out from pro-red shirt websites, most of which have become platforms for red shirt supporters to condemn the security forces and the government.

The website's financing is mainly from domestic and overseas donor organisations. However, over the past few years, donations have been shrinking, prompting the website to organise fund-raising campaigns since last year.

"The charges against me have put an increased burden on our editorial team, which has already faced many difficulties in working under the government's strict media controls," said Ms Chiranuch.

She said she had to waste a lot of time dealing with legal matters, including travelling to Khon Kaen once a month to report to the police.

The 43-year-old director faces charges involving alleged violation of the Computer Crime Act stemming from last March when a reader posted a message deemed offensive on Prachatai's web board. The Criminal Court has accepted the case for trial and will start questioning witnesses in February next year.

The Khon Kaen case, which also involves an inappropriate post on Prachatai's discussion forum, is awaiting a police decision on whether they will indict Ms Chiranuch.

Ms Chiranuch said she felt that the government has imposed extra surveillance on Prachatai because it considers the website to be part of the red shirt alliance.

"However, I think all media outlets, not only Prachatai, have been affected by the government's media controls," she said.

Prachatai reporter Mutita Chauchang said lese majeste charges did not affect the website news content as the charges usually stemmed from messages posted on the discussion forums.

"We just have to work harder on monitoring messages posted on the web board and delete inappropriate entries from the forum," she said.


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