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Media rise in protest against regulatory bill

Sep 11. 2016
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Say law to regulate outlets will open door to political interference and threaten journalist independence.
MAJOR MEDIA organisations will meet today to discuss a joint stance on the media regulation bill proposed by the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA). It appears that they could issue a joint statement in opposition to the bill. 
The Thai Journalists Association (TJA), the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA), the National Press Council of Thailand (NPCT) and the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand (NBCT) have all said they disapprove of the draft bill and associated media council. They say the legislation would open the door for intervention by outside forces into the media, such as politicians and financiers.
Wanchai Wongmeechai, president of the TJA, told The Nation: “The bill says that any media organisation can join the council and have a chance to regulate the media. But what’s worrying is any
 one can set up such organisations very easily.
“Any politicians or financiers can just form a company and then seek membership with the professional council.”
The media industry response came after the NRSA met with media networks last week over the bill. The proposed media council would regulate media organisations and supposedly protect press freedom.
A source on a subcommittee under the committee tasked with media reform admitted that there was still debate over what form the bill should take.
“The media demand independence. But on the flip side, some people call for it to be regulated. So, it is not easy to balance these two,” the source said. 
The source said the media council should be advantageous for the media and the public.
“The public would benefit, as the media would be more responsible for what they report. On the other hand, the media would benefit from the protection and promotion of rights and freedom provided by the bill,” the source said.
Key players within the media, however, fear the council would undermine the independence of media organisations instead of promoting it. Most veteran journalists on leading media associations insist that self-regulation is the best option for the industry.
Southeast Asian Press Alliance executive director Edgardo Legaspi said that the bill would be used to control the media. He said journalistic principles state that the media must be free from interference and must enforce its own ethics.
TJA’s Wanchai said the industry had always regulated itself through mechanisms such as issuing statements to warn or to call for troublesome media organisations to be held responsible for their reports. 
“We never neglected any action by the media when it exerts a negative impact on the public or does something professionally unethical,” Wanchai said.
“There are also other existing mechanisms to help regulate the media including those of the NBTC [National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission]. So, the new bill is unnecessary, redundant, and will only overlap with what we already have.” 
But advocates of the bill argue that it is necessary as the media had failed to govern itself.
Veteran journalist Pattara Kampitak, a former president of the NPCT, said that media self-regulation needed much improvement, but stopped short of suggesting what should be done to revamp mechanisms governing the industry.
Jumpol Rodkamdee, a mass media and communications scholar and a former member of the now-defunct National Reform Council (NRC) which initiated the bill, argued that media self-regulation had not worked and poor professional ethics and standards had often hurt public interests.
“The public one way or another is every day affected by the media which reports news with poor ethical standards and without responsibility,” he said.
The academic said that the media should review itself. If it had been effective in regulating itself, the bill would not have emerged, he added.
As a member of the NRC’s sub-committee that drafted the bill, he claimed that media associations had agreed a bill to regulate the media industry should be written.
“This bill did not emerge only out of the intention of the NRC. We talked to the media and many involved parties and stakeholders before kick starting it. The NRC should not take the blame for this,” Jumpol said. 
The scholar dismissed the argument that media independence would be undermined by the implementation of the bill. He said that without a proper law and regulations some media outlets had been influenced by politicians and financiers. Press freedom and independence would be better protected and promoted by the controversial bill, he added.
Five media associations will meet today to discuss the issue and look at the proposed media bill drafted during the Abhisit administration.
Chavarong Limpattamapanee, chairman of the NPCT, said earlier the 2010 draft bill truly protected press freedom but was not enacted due to a change of administration. The associations said that the bill should be revived if a media regulation law was necessary.

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