The media has been called on to play an important role in combating hate speech while enjoying press freedom "responsibly".
To mark World Press Freedom Day today, the Thai Journalists Association and the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association yesterday organised a seminar on hate speech.
They issued a joint-statement calling on the government sector, the media, parties in conflict and the audience to value press freedom, and at the same time refrain from spreading hate speech when sharing information.
“We call on the government sector, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, as well as all media agencies to unselectively play their roles and make sure that all media agencies perform their duties under a professional code of conduct and the law,” the bodies said.
“The TJA and the TBJA assert freedom of the press as an important part to promote transparency and good governance, and at the same time ensure justice for all in society.”
Sunai Phasuk, an adviser to Human Rights Watch Thailand, said the media played a role in causing political discourse and the divisive “us or them” attitude as well as people comparing themselves with other people (who is better, who is inferior).
Calling people a “buffalo”, a “cockroach” or “rubbish” could lead to violence, he said.
Sunai said “good” media should warn people about this and target those guilty of promulgating it as the problem was “like piling tinder and putting oil on something and waiting for someone to light a match”.
He said that if violence caused by hate speech broke out in Thailand in the future, the resulting bloodshed could be severe.
The most important antidote to this behaviour was the cultivation of a correct conscience.
Chulalongkorn University journalism lecturer Pichitra Tsukamoto said hate speech were emotional rather than rational. They were spread by an insult or de-humanising someone.
Veteran television journalist Pipope Panitchpakdi said hate speech was not only used in political issues but also related to the use of words and pictures to create “images” of good and bad people in various issues including stereotyping ethnic groups.
“The main point is not censorship, but media literacy and skills to spot the discourses of hatred that might come in polite manners but there’s hatred in it,” he said.
Legal and information technology expert Paiboon Amornpinyokiat said that currently over 10,000 criminal cases of libel had been committed online while Internet users tended to verbally attack other people due to a misunderstanding that the Internet had brought absolute freedom of expression.
“A lot more people also misunderstand that if they use pseudonyms on the Internet, it will be impossible to trace them. That is wrong,” Paiboon said.
But while he said people could be traced, there were still a limited number of officers with the ability to do it and pursuing legal action against offenders was difficult because the laws only covered this country.