Media up the ante over bill
World Press Freedom Day marked with concerns over threats to society
OPPOSITION to the controversial media regulatory bill intensified yesterday as local media groups joined their counterparts from all over the world in marking World Press Freedom Day.
Thirty groups of journalists and media representatives continued their campaign against the draft law with strong support from regional media organisations such as the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT). Both groups issued separate statements condemning government efforts to further control the media.
Representatives from Thai media groups, including print, broadcast and online media, gathered at the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) headquarters to celebrate World Press Freedom Day, while reinforcing their opposition to the media regulatory bill. They were joined by foreign diplomats from Finland and Norway.
Media groups called on the government to withdraw the controversial draft law – passed by the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) earlier this week – which they said would restrict press freedom. They also urged the government to lift orders issued by the National Council for Peace and Order that restricted media freedom. The media groups said the new Constitution, which has been in effect since early last month, guarantees the right of expression.
The groups’ statement also encouraged media professionals and organisations to follow professional ethics in carrying out their duties and urged people, as the consumers of news, to play an active role in holding the media accountable.
The media organisations emphasised that press freedom was crucial to a democracy under a constitutional monarchy and that they were opposed to any attempts to restrict the independence of the media and freedom of expression. They also reiterated their commitment to make self-regulation more effective and credible.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday said the government had no intention of silencing the media with the draft law, but he said regulations were needed to improve the quality of the media.
He added that dealing with the media was an important part of the government’s work. “So I want the press to be balanced while working with the government for the people,” he told reporters.
He said his government would review the draft bill before it goes to the National Legislative Assembly for approval and passage into law.
A statement by the FCCT said yesterday that the NRSA’s Bill on the Protection of Media Rights lumped all “media” together indiscriminately and was misguided. “Overworked and underpaid journalists do not need any further official oversight, particularly by individuals lacking relevant media experience,” it said in a statement.
Meanwhile, the SEAPA expressed concerns over the draft bill, saying it was deeply troubled that the current government seemingly sought to make media restrictions permanent.
The SEAPA also expressed solidarity with the TJA and allied organisations in opposing the draft bill. “We repeat and fully support their call to stop the draft bill and efforts to muzzle the media,” said SEAPA president Eko Mayardi in a statement.
The media bill was also slammed at a TJA seminar titled “Press Freedom and the Future of Thai Society” over its attempt to control not only the media but also general expression in society.
The seminar urged journalists to be self-reflective and improve their sense of responsibility to prevent the state from interfering and exploiting potential shortcomings.
Representatives from the junta-appointed reform panel and legislators told the media to calm down, saying the bill might be dropped at future stages.
Suthichai Yoon, veteran media figure and digital journalist with the Nation Multimedia Group, said the bill would also control ordinary social media users. He added that it reflected authorities’ lack of understanding about the changing media landscape.
Foreign envoys yesterday said an independent media was necessary for any democracy.
Swedish Ambassador Staffan Herrstrom yesterday credited his country’s free and strong media for helping curb corruption.
“A free and strong media and far-reaching right to information legislation have been essential to fight and reveal corruption, helping Sweden become one of the least corrupt countries in the world. We have also a well-functioning system for media self-regulation,” he said.
The envoy avoided speaking directly about the current situation in Thailand, but added that Sweden was ready to share its experiences.
Austrian Ambassador Enno Drofenik said that an independent and active press helped provide checks and balances for any functioning democracy. “While I will not comment on the specific situation in Thailand, I would like to highlight that freedom of the press and the protection of journalists is one of Austria’s foreign policy priorities. Every functioning democracy needs an independent and active press in order to provide necessary checks and balances for the administrationIn his Twitter message yesterday, the Austrian envoy wrote: “#worldpressfreedom day! Supporting Thai media associat. w. my colleagues from Finland & Sweden @SatuSuikkariK @StaffHerrst.”