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Draft to authorise media censorship during emergency situations

Jan 12. 2016
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CHARTER DRAFTERS yesterday agreed to make provisions in the draft constitution to boost the government’s power to censor media during emergency situations.
An article in the new draft will stipulate that the prohibition against authorities’ scrutinising news reports before publication will be lifted if the country is under martial law or a state of emergency. This would be an extension of the previous charter’s stipulation that allowed government censors such powers only during war.
Constitution Drafting Commis-sion (CDC) spokesman Udom Rathamarit said that drafters had no intention of limiting media freedom. 
In an emergency situation, authorities reserved the right to screen any news article or report, Udom said, adding that drafters had decided to enshrine the provision in the charter for the sake of clarity.
“The media should be aware that when the country faces an irregular situation, they should cooperate with the state. They cannot claim the right to freedom of expression and complicate the situation further,” Udom said. 
The drafters have also stipulated that state-run media should report news in line with their mission. Udom conceded that the media should have freedom to do their work but the question remained whether they should serve their offices and their purposes too.
Manop Thip-Osod, spokesperson of Thai Journalists Association (TJA), expressed concern about the additional provisions, saying they could have a negative impact on the freedom and reputation of both the Thai media and of the whole country.
“It [the stipulation] cannot solve the problem. We have to wait and see if members of the international community have any stance on this,” said Manop, who is also vice president on press freedom and media reform at the TJA. 
Mana Treelayapewat, dean of the Faculty of Communication Arts, University of the Thai Chamber of Commerce, warned the CDC against restricting media freedoms. He said it was not necessary to enshrine such provisions in the charter because media understood their responsibilities during previous situations that led to the declaration of martial law.
More importantly, the international community may question the country’s media freedom. “This issue is worrying,’’ Mana said.
He did not rule out the possibility that elected governments would use media censorship to stifle political rallies.
“We can see that when previous governments failed to control the political situation [during protests], they declared martial law. If this is the case, media freedom would be restricted,’’ he said.
Mana called on the CDC to explain the necessity for such provisions in the charter draft.
 Meanwhile, the CDC has barred the media from the second day of its meeting in Cha-am to draft the charter article by article.
The media was allowed to attend the meeting’s opening day on Monday. CDC chairman Meechai Ruchupan had earlier said the media would be allowed to attend the meeting to observe the drafting of some provisions.
Udom said a press conference would be held twice a day, at 10am and 3pm.
Some CDC members felt uncomfortable expressing opinions in the presence of journalists, Meechai explained, adding that media would regain access only when some provisions are being drafted.
A source said some CDC members were concerned about how the media may present some sensitive issues, which may have negative repercussions if some issues are distorted or misunderstood.
“Nowhere in the world is such a meeting fully open to the media,’’ the source said.
Meechai had earlier planned to hand over articles drafted to the media at the end of the day, but some CDC members raised concerns that there could be public misunderstanding if some provisions were altered. No decision has been made on whether the media should get the first draft of each Article.

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