Human rights advocates have joined press corps to oppose the controversial media bill, saying the legislation would undermine independent news reporting and deprive people of having access to information.
The Bill on the Protection and Promotion of Media Rights, Freedom, Ethics and Professional Standards, drawn up by the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) media reform committee, has come under heavy criticism, particularly from the media, which express concerns that the legislation would invite government interference in reportage.
Their concerns have been echoed by Human Rights Watch and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).
“The misnamed media rights and freedom law is the junta’s latest attempt to increase government interference and control of any independent news reporting,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Passage of this law would mean that reporters in Thailand will be constantly looking over their shoulder at a government-appointed panel that can have them jailed.”
The human rights watchdog also urged the Thai government to immediately withdraw the draft law, which it says would tighten control of news reporting in Thailand.
It says although the government reiterated this pledge most recently in March at the United Nations Human Rights Committee during the review of Thailand’s rights record, the junta’s record on freedom of expression has been poor. Thai authorities have repeatedly harassed and prosecuted people for their speech, writings and internet postings even mildly critical of the government, the body said.
“The proposed media law is taking Thailand even further away from the junta’s promised election and restoration of democratic rule,” Mr Adams said in the statement released yesterday. “Instead of adopting another repressive law, the government should lift censorship and the rights abusing regulations that are destroying free expression in Thailand.”
Meanwhile, NHRC member Angkhana Neelapaijit called on the NRSA to roll back the draft law, saying all stakeholders must be brought to talk come up with a joint conclusion about it.
Ms Angkhana said she principally disagreed with the bill, which requires media workers to seek licences from authorities for their jobs. She said this is tantamount to closing people’s chance to have access to information. If it becomes law, it will limit the rights of the people and freedom of speech, she said.
The media should have freedom to access information and expose it to the public, particularly regarding various stages of projects which require huge amounts of money, she said. But she said freedom must come together with responsibility and respect for the rights of other people.
“I will join the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) to oppose this draft law,” Ms Angkhana said. “I will also attend the World Press Freedom Day event held on May 3 by the TJA to show my stance against the bill together with reporters in Thailand and worldwide.”
The justice process can be currently pursued when the media is found to have tarnished the reputation of people and no efforts should be made to rein it in, she said.
Netizens also requested the scrapping of the bill on Change.org. The petitioner said the bill would turn the media to be under the state power.
Any news which is deemed unfavourable by the state could make it difficult for reporters to have their licences extended, it says.
Concerns over the bill came as the 2017 World Press Freedom Index showed Thailand’s ranking dropped from 136 to 142. The 180-country index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), was released on Wednesday.
The bill is set to be deliberated by the NRSA tomorrow.
Alongkorn Polabutr, deputy chairman of the NRSA, said if the bill is approved, the NRSA’s Media Reform Committee will need to bring it back and update it with input given by the assembly’s members.
After that, the bill will be sent to NRSA president Thinnapan Nakata, who will forward it to the cabinet for consideration, he said.
If the bill is voted down, it will be scrapped, he said.
Chairman of the Media Reform Committee, ACM Kanit Suwannate, said he understands the media’s concerns about a 15-member national media council formed under the bill which would include two representatives from state agencies.
He said seven of them are media representatives and one of them chairs the body.