Thai printers refuse to publish New York Times over article on royalty

The international edition of the newspaper did not see the light of day in Thailand on Tuesday, after the local printers deemed the front-page article on the country’s ailing king “too sensitive to print”

Bangkok: The New York Times said yesterday that its printer had refused to print the local edition of the international newspaper because it featured a front-page article on the health of the ailing king.

Thailand's King Bhumibol
Thailand’s King Bhumibol is perceived as a near deity by many Thais and is often seen as a unifying force in a deeply polarised country with a turbulent political history. Pic/AFP

His majesty
The condition of 87-year-old King Bhumibol — the world’s longest serving monarch — is a hugely controversial topic in Thailand.

The monarchy is shielded by one of the world’s toughest lèse-majesté laws and prosecutions have increased dramatically since the military took over last year in a coup.

Local and international media have to routinely self-censor when reporting on the monarchy for fear of falling foul of the broadly worded law, which carries up to 15 years in jail for each count of insulting the king, queen, heir or regent.

No comment
When contacted a woman at Eastern Printing PCL in northern Bangkok confirmed that their company was the sole printer of the New York Times in Thailand but declined to comment on their reasons for refusing to print the paper. “It is not convenient to say anything as we are just a printer, please contact the New York Times,” she said.

Royal mess
The New York Times article, which ran to more than 1,300 words and was on the front page in its Asia edition, looked into the increasingly frail health of King Bhumibol and anxieties inside Thailand over his chosen successor, Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn, who does not enjoy his father's widespread popularity. It also detailed many of the difficulties in writing about the royal family or gauging its popularity in a country where open debate about its role is all but impossible thanks to the lèse-majeste law.

Divine right
King Bhumibol is perceived as a near deity by many Thais and is often seen as a unifying force in a deeply polarised country with a turbulent political history. In the last two years he has been in and out of hospital. Public appearances have become increasingly rare and information on his condition has been scarce.

NYT's stand

“Today’s edition of the International New York Times was not printed in Thailand because it includes an article that our locally contracted printer deemed too sensitive to print. This decision was made solely by the printer and is not endorsed by the International New York Times,” the newspaper said in a letter to subscribers in the kingdom.

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