The fallacy of muzzling the media

opinion February 06, 2017 01:00

By The Nation

2,720 Viewed

The junta must not mistake ‘reform’ for ‘control’



There are growing concerns both in Thailand and abroad about a new law that would permit greater and unnecessary control on private media outlets as well as journalists in the country. 

The National Reform Steering Assembly and the government could have directed its energy more productively elsewhere by ensuring greater media freedom, independence and protection. The Assembly is made up of people appointed by this government backed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

They were instructed to draft a “bill on rights, protection, ethical promotion, and standards of media professionals” as part of the NCPO’s reform agenda. But these drafters seem to regard “reform” and “control” as synonymous.

Specifically, the bill would create a new, 13-member national “Media Professional Council”, which would include four ministerial secretaries to enforce a code of conduct via the threat of penalties that have yet to be defined. Adding to the absurdity is the proposal that the code of conduct will be written by the government.

In a sign that the country’s media will be taking a big step backward, the bill requires all journalists to be licensed by the government. 

The legislation is currently under review by the NRSA media reform panel. The fact that the current junta has proven to be extremely thin-skinned when it comes to handling criticism should be a matter of concern. After all, these measures are being pushed through by the top brass, who seem obsessed by control and know virtually nothing at all about good governance. 

As pointed out by the Thai Journalists Association, Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the National Press Council of Thailand, the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand, the Online New Providers Association, and the Thailand Cable TV Association, the bill will invite state interference in the media. 

In an open letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, the Centre for Protection of Journalists said it shared the same concern.

The requirement for a media outlet and reporters to be licensed could easily overturn the entire foundation on which the media rests. The granting of a licence will no longer be a right; it will become a privilege granted by the state. It will cause journalists to censor themselves for fear of reprisal from the government. It does not take a genius to predict how this will play out – media outlets that submit an application to the government authority will, naturally, be given a licence. 

Besides doing away with this draft legislation, the junta should also repeal military order No 97/2557 and No 103/2557. The orders ban news reporting that could “create confusion, instigate unrest, or deepen divisions among people”, or be considered “malicious”, or “misleading” about how the NCPO conducts itself.

Can the NCPO honestly believe they can change peoples’ minds about them by shutting them up through legislation? Can’t they see that this is an exercise in futility, but in the process, they will be planting political landmines that will revive the very mess they claimed they were trying to clean up?

When the junta launched the coup over two years ago, their constant emphasis was on “reforms”. But reforms took a back seat once the junta turned their focus to winning a referendum 

on the draft constitution to claim 

legitimacy. 

After two years, the country remains divided while the referendum outcome cannot be considered an absolution of how the junta seized power. 

Instead of hiding behind fancy words like “national security, protecting the political system and the moral values of the people”, people and the world will respect this government more if it could make a clean breast about its intention to cement a place in Thai politics.

All along they have claimed their actions were in the people’s interests. Perhaps it’s good for some people, like their people, the ones who are currently in power and would like to cling on to it for as long as they can.