By ASINA PORNWASIN,
PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday attempted to allay fears over the controversial media regulatory bill, denying it was intended to restrict media freedom and calling for mutual trust between the media and the government.
He said it was necessary to have a new law to regulate the mass media, particularly online social media, due to a lot of problems created by “bad people” who spread false information irresponsibly.
“Do not fear restriction of the media. Why do I need to do so? I cannot work without the media. The media help expand my understanding. The media warn me about something bad, and I am ready to look into it,” Prayut said.
He urged the media to accept a regulating committee in the new legislation, but said he did not completely agree with the draft bill proposed by the National Reform Steering Council (NRSA). “I still do not agree with the draft. Before agreeing with it, I have to listen to the people and the media so see what they think,” he said.
Prayut did not elaborate as to whether he was referring to a proposed requirement that all media professionals, including those in the social media, need to have licences.
Any media professional working without a licence risks a jail term of up to three years or a maximum fine of Bt60,000, or both, according to the media reform bill.
The prime minister said media groups had admitted they were unable to regulate their members and therefore a regulating body was required.
He maintained that he was not blaming the media but that the regulating body was required to prevent “bad people” from doing whatever they liked. “Other countries have the same thing and they have problems with social media. We are adopting a principle that is acceptable to the international community,” he said.
NRSA vice president Alongkorn Ponlaboot said yesterday that the assembly had no intention of restricting media freedom or controlling the media by proposing the new law.
“We just want to improve the quality of the media profession. We want the media to adhere to a code of ethics and take social responsibility,” he said.
Alongkorn, formerly a politician from the Democrat Party, also said he did not think the NRSA would agree with any provision that went against international standards.
Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Commission, said yesterday that the 2017 Constitution does not require media professionals to have licences.
Despite strong opposition, the contentious media regulatory bill has been scheduled for deliberation by the NRSA at its meeting next Monday.
In the latest revision, alternative news outlets broadcast via online channel are also included in the draft law. They are expected to be subject to the same treatment, such as have a licence, like traditional and mainstream media.
ACM Kanit Suwannet, chairman of the NRSA’s media reform committee, told The Nation that the assembly viewed online media as no different from traditional media such as newspapers or television, apart from their broadcasting channels, so they should be included in the new regulatory system too. The draft bill had given a rough definition of such new media as instant creators who earned income from providing online content, he said.
“Anyone who feeds content to the public online and gains profit, for instance, from advertisements would be under this law, too,” Kanit said. “These include those [Facebook] pages with a lot followers that have advertisements running on them.”
The law had to keep pace with the advances in technology, he said.
Alternative news outlets in the online world have gained significant momentum in recent years. They are considered by many people as competitors or even killers of the traditional mass media, as audiences are increasingly rely on the Internet for news rather than listening to the radio, watching television or reading papers.
These outlets include portal websites and online new agencies such as Kapook.com, Sanook.com, Thematter.co, and the Momentum.co. They are expected to be impacted by the media regulatory bill too.
Teepagorn Wuttipitayamongkol, a co-founder of alternative online news agency The Matter, wrote on his Facebook that the bill was an obvious attempt to control the media.
“Imagine having to ask for permission every time [we] make a joke or report news that might oppose the powers that be. [Imagine] a world where a handful of people try to impose their morality on diverse people,” the veteran columnist wrote. “We can see how tragic this media registration is.”
Online media people and bloggers yesterday had mixed reactions to the proposed licensing of media professionals.
Nunchavit Chaiyapaksopon, IT blogger at Yokekungworld.com, said the licensing requirement could make online media and bloggers more responsible. However, the requirements should be set out clearly and the licensing process should be transparent enough for outside checking.
Nuttaputch Wongreanthong, digital marketing blogger at Nuttaputch.com, saw potential in the regulation attempt. By doing so, he suggested, online thought leaders should be encouraged to take part in the bill-drafting process to provide timely and true-to-context insights.
Poramate Minsiri, managing director and CEO at Kapook.com, however was concerned that the government’s role in licensing could curb media freedom. He believed that self-regulation and society could be a more efficient in the modern world.
“When authority sets up such a process, we will see fewer online reporters, given that they will be required to register beforehand,” Poramate said. “The media might be more limited to report on issues, especially on rights infringements.”
Khajorn Chiaranaipanich, an IT blogger at Khajochi.com, said it would be hard to specify who are media workers and who are not in the online arena.
Apisilp Trunganont, president of Thai Webmaster Association and co-founder of Pantip.com, saw ambiguity in the NRSA’s explanation of the bill. “What kind of media will need to be licensed, who exactly will issue the licences, and how they will be used upon a worker or legal person?” he asked. “We need to know answers to these questions,” he said.
IT TV host Pongsuk Hiranprueck said he was willing to be licensed. “But I’m sure that more than 1 million Thais will be ready to break the law,” he said, adding that he did not think Facebook would allow an authentication system to screen out unlicensed media.