Concern is growing among Thai media professionals that the government is rushing through a media control bill under the guise of “ethics.”
Supan Rakchuea, president of the News Broadcast Council of Thailand, told Thai PBS on Friday that the government appears unusually keen to pass the bill.
Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan wrote to Parliament President Chuan Leekpai on September 6 last year, asking him to put the media control bill forward for emergency deliberation. Supan said that the bill is part of a media reform as mandated by the Constitution which itself is only a few years old.
The News Broadcast Council of Thailand opposes the bill, claiming that it erodes Section 35 of the Constitution, which guarantees the rights, liberty and free expression of media professionals.
One of the highlights of the bill is that members of state media have the right to defy the orders of their superiors, if such orders are deemed unethical.
According to the bill, a professional media council will be established with annual funding of 25 million baht (US$800,000) from the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Research and Development Fund for the Public Interest. Media outlets will be required to register with the council to get financial support.
Supan said that, if the government truly wants a media control bill to promote ethics and professional standards, it should be a matter for the public to monitor and check media work, instead of seeking to control the media through the creation of an unnecessary body.
In Thailand, defamation and cybercrime laws are used to harass journalists, who – if prosecuted – are forced to incur exorbitant legal fees. The government has also imposed a “code of conduct” under which it can suspend the licences of media outlets that threaten “public decency.”
Journalists are aware that any criticism of the government may cause a draconian response. Since the 2014 coup, dozens of journalists and bloggers have been forced to choose between imprisonment and exile.
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