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Asean media outlets urge more vigorous self-regulation

Dec 15. 2016
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MEDIA SELF-REGULATION remains the best practice to promote industry ethics in Asean while maintaining press freedom, journalists heard yesterday, but political and social challenges have kept outlets in several countries from realising that goal.

Representatives from regional press councils yesterday voiced concerns about the industry at a panel discussion hosted by the Southeast Asian Press Alliance.

They also shared experiences as “watchdogs of the watchdogs”, describing how the media industry as a vital public service was also interested in reviewing its own performance.

Journalists from Myanmar, Bangladesh, East Timor, the Philippines and Thailand joined the panel.

One of the shared concerns was inefficient motivational forces within media organisations, said Chavarong Limpattamapanee, National Press Council of Thailand president, adding that a lack of commitment resulted in some members feeling less obliged to follow codes of conduct.

Chavarong cited one incident when the council received a consumer complaint against member. “The outlet simply withdrew from the council once they learned action might be taken,” he said. “Many media [organisations] don’t see a problem in not being under the council’s umbrella as they can still run their businesses.”

Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director of the Philippines-based Centre for Media Freedom and Responsibility, said the country’s political culture was having a negative effect on the media industry. While the Philippine Press Institute had succeeded in establishing media rules, she said, they were followed only by members of the institute, while the rest of the media was not responsive by society.

“We tried to open channels to receive complaints from people [against] the media but we have received [only] a few so far,” she said.

Quintos de Jesus said the inability of the country’s media industry to regulate itself was a “failure of press culture” and she suggested that an actively engaged civil society would be a more effective regulator. 

“Self-regulation has been an effort to maintain the independence of press organisations. But for most of the time, [regulating bodies] benefit only their participants,” she said.

Chavarong said civil society in Thailand tended to favour the media industry being externally regulated rather than self-regulating given the media’s low credibility in the eyes of the public.

Given Thailand’s current political environment, he said, a new draft bill introduced by the junta-appointed National Reform Council (NRC) aimed to set up a national media council that could overrule and legally sanction self-regulating media organisations. 

The draft was submitted for the Cabinet’s consideration last year.

Like many speakers at the discussion, Chavarong said he believed that legally binding regulation of the industry would pave the way for authorities influencing media affairs and affecting press freedom.

To counter that, he said, media organisations planned to reform themselves by introducing a media ombudsman that does not require specific affiliation with organisations, speeding up the handling of complaints against the media and increasing the commitment of National Press Council of Thailand members.

He said media organisations would also propose an alternative to the NRC’s draft bill that would not be framed in terms of a legally binding government authority.

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