NRSA tipped to ease media bill

NRSA tipped to ease media bill

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha slags off the Government House press corps in February of last year, to the amusement of guests. The regime will decide shortly, probably on Monday, whether to adopt ‘press reform’ measures including the licensing of all journalists of all types. (Bangkok Post file photo)

The National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) has signalled the media bill, which critics say could cripple media freedom, could be amended following intense opposition by the press corps and activists.

The bill, drawn up by the NRSA’s media reform committee, is set to go for a vote before the NRSA Monday. (See Infographic below)

Ahead of the debate, the president of the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) Pramed Lekpetch vowed Sunday to take reporters to submit a letter asking the NRSA to roll back the bill.

Hours later, the president of the National Press Council, Chavarong Limpattamapanee, announced Sunday night that no matter how the issue proceeds, the Council will not join any so-called “National Media Profession Council” under any circumstances.

ACM Kanit Suwannate, chairman of the committee, said Sunday he will talk to others present at the NRSA meeting about dropping the clause requiring that the media be licensed, and another concerning penalties.

Many parties, including the media, have voiced opposition to these issues, he noted.

Another much-criticised issue under the bill is the 15-member national media profession council, which would include the permanent secretaries for the PM’s Office and Culture Ministry.

Many fear this would allow state authorities to interfere in the media’s affairs.

ACM Kanit, however, stood firm on the point that two representatives from state agencies are still needed in the council, saying cooperation between the state and the private sector was still necessary.

He expressed confidence state authorities would not be able to interfere in the media, saying: “The meeting of the national media profession council needs a resolution and the ratio of the media representatives is bigger than that of the state.”

ACM Kanit’s fresh idea follows his earlier promise to ask the NRSA meeting to limit the two state representatives sitting on the council to only two terms of three years each.

After that, there will no longer be any state officials on the body.

However, the NRSA’s offer does not appear to have soothed the media corps.

Pratyachai Dutchthuyanuwat, a spokesman of the TJA, said the the media reform committee was intended from the beginning to reign in the press. He doubted the compromise would go far enough.

The bill still keeps a role for state officials on the council, which means authorities can still wield power against the media, he said.

The media must have freedom and liberty in performing its duties and there is no need to get the state involved, he noted. Mr Pratyachai said the definition of the media and those occupying the profession is too broad, as it also covers digital media.

“We want to call for the draft law to be withdrawn and have the government run it through the process under Section 77 of the new charter, which stipulates that before any laws are rolled out, the government must heed the opinions of stakeholders,” said Mr Pratyachai.

He added the TJA representatives will submit a petition against the bill to Alongkorn Polabutr, deputy chairman of the NRSA.

The TJA also will submit another petition to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at Government House tomorrow, calling on him not to support the bill.

President of the National Press Council of Thailand (NPCT), Chavarong Limpattamapanee, said the media reform committee decided to put the NPCT chairman on the media profession council without consultation.

He said the NPCT wants to make it clear it will not join the council.

It is talking about other media professional organisations to see if they will take the same stance, he noted.

Parliamentary reporters also called on the NRSA to withdraw the bill and review its content through the hearing process.

The bill would make it difficult for the media and social media users to exercise full freedom, they said.

Getting state officials involved would inevitably affect the profession, they added.

The secretary for the NRSA whip, Kamnoon Sidhisamarn, said he was unhappy with the media profession council including state officials, licensing, and the overly broad definition of the media.

The bill has also drawn opposition from several politicians.

Pheu Thai Party key figure, Noppadol Pattama, said any incoming laws should not have implications for media freedom and people’s rights to information.

The NRSA should listen to concerns raised by all sides, he noted.

Amnuay Khlangpha, a former Lop Buri MP from the same party, said defamation laws can tame in unruly media outlets. New laws were not needed.

Democrat deputy leader Ong-art Klampaiboon said he personally disagreed with the inclusion of any state officials on the proposed council.

The NRSA must also consider whether the bill would conflict with the constitution, which supports media freedom, he added.

Meanwhile, a survey found most people believe the media upholds more ethics than politicians. Noppadol Kannikar, head of Super Poll, a polling and research agency, said 75.2% of 1,172 people surveyed from April 14 to 29 said they held this belief.

He said 56.7% said they followed the news largely through media outlets.

Mr Noppadol said 47% indicated the media bill could trigger social conflicts, while 53% did not believe so.