Int’l NY Times’ Thai Printer Refuses to Run Front-Page Story
By Malcolm Foster 2 December 2015
BANGKOK — The printer of The International New York Times in Thailand refused to print an article portraying a gloomy outlook for the country, leaving in its place a large blank space at the center of Tuesday’s front page.
The printing company called the story too “sensitive,” but declined to specify the offending material.
The article, titled “Thai spirits sagging with the economy” in the paper’s other Asian editions, described a moribund economy, pessimism after years of political turmoil and concern about the royal succession. The military took power in a May 2014 coup, and elections that were promised have been put off until at least 2017.
Discussion of the monarchy has always been a delicate matter in Thailand, where strict laws limit frank discussion of the royal family. But freedom of speech has been constricted even further under the military government, prompting many publications and reporters to self-censor to avoid offending the junta.
There was no indication that the government was involved in the decision not to print the story.
An official at Eastern Printing Co. overseeing the newspaper’s account said the printer decided not to publish the article because it was “inappropriate,” without elaborating.
In place of the article was a two-line note that said: “The article in this space was removed by our printer in Thailand. The International New York Times and its editorial staff had no role in its removal.”
“It’s sensitive,” said the official, who declined to give her name for that reason. “The printing company has the right to deny printing articles that touch upon inappropriate issues, according to the contract.”
Beyond highlighting a general sour mood among Thais, the article touches on the eventual succession of the ailing 87-year-old king. Insulting the monarchy is punishable by three to 15 years in prison.
Another blank space appeared on page 6, where the rest of the article was to run. However, the article was still available online to readers in Thailand.
This is the second time in three months that the newspaper’s local printer has blocked publication of a piece about Thailand. The printer decided not to publish the entire Sept. 22 edition because it contained an article about the future of the Thai monarchy that it also called “too sensitive to print.”
Eileen Murphy, a spokeswoman for The New York Times, said it was notified about the printer’s decision, but that the newspaper played no role in it.
Murphy said there have been rare instances in other countries where printers have chosen not to publish stories because they were deemed too sensitive. “We understand the pressures local publishers sometimes face, but we regret any censorship of our journalism,” she wrote in an email.
The newspaper, known until 2013 as the International Herald Tribune, announced recently that it was ceasing printing and distributing its print edition in Thailand as of year-end. In a letter to subscribers, it attributed the decision to rising operating costs.
The junta, which has curbed dissent through intimidation and detentions, also has said that defense of the monarchy is its priority, and has vigorously pursued prosecutions under the law. Over the past year, there has been a significant increase in convictions.
In a 41-page report on Thailand issued last month, the Paris-based press freedom group Reporters Without Borders noted that due to censorship, threats and harassment of the media and increasing use of repressive laws, the country “is now seen as one of the region’s most authoritarian regimes as regards journalists and freedom of information.”