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A time of crisis is ideal for media to consider reforms

One of the first issues junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha raised in his weekly TV address on Friday was the role of the media.

"First, I'd like to clarify the roles of mass media and other media. TV channels, satellite TV, radio, community radio, social media and print media - I don't want any more conflicts and misunderstandings with them, no matter if it is with NCPO [National Council for Peace and Order] or law-enforcement officers," he said.

He said the country was facing an abnormal situation, and hence, all media should join hands in reducing and avoiding disseminating news that would worsen the conflict. He also warned media against publishing "unverified" reports. Prayuth pointed out that some biased people were spreading hate speech via social media, which is embarrassing to the country.

The day after Prayuth's appearance on TV, a group of social-media users complained that the mainstream media was too quiet about people summoned by the NCPO. In response to this, the NCPO announced that all detainees had been released and that there would be no more detentions.

Academic Sarinee Achavanuntakul posted that the public should be told that many journalists, academics and activists had been summoned, not via TV announcements but through letters or phone calls, and that some had been detained.

Sarinee's Facebook post came on the same day that Thanapol Eawsakul, editor of Same Sky journal, was reportedly summoned and detained by the military.

Asked to confirm the reports, the NCPO spokesman said they required some time to verify the information - especially as it was asked for over the weekend, when they were off.

NCPO spokesman Colonel Winthai Suvari said the detentions had not resulted from the central NCPO's orders. It was more likely that local investigators had raised suspicions of violations of the "rules or conditions" and pressed charges. Nevertheless, they could legally hold a suspect for up to seven days for investigation.

Urged to quickly verify the information because the Prachatai website had publicised Thanapol's detention, Winthai said posts on the website did not mean they were true and insisted he needed time to verify it.

He showed no urgency in either confirming or rebutting the report.

Winthai, meanwhile, confirmed the Same Sky editor's detention yesterday, after he was presented to the Crime Suppression Division.

Chakkrish Permpool, chairman of the National Press Council of Thailand (NPCT), at the council's 17th anniversary celebrations on Friday highlighted the need to bring the increasingly disparate media outlets in the country under the supervision of one regulatory body, possibly a confederation.

He said a number of NPCT co-founders had already played a prominent role in several media outlets.

"It's time we established a regulatory organisation for all media, especially in terms of news. Some young news media operators clearly lack a solid understanding of the principles governing mass media," he said.

At the same event, Korkhet Chantalertlak, chairman of the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand - a regulatory body for broadcast media - said news reports relayed through online media often reflected personal attitudes or comments of the senders. The media's role as a gatekeeper had accordingly changed, considering the participation of different members of society as well as the factor of new technology.

The NPCT was founded with the aim to free the media from state control, as it had been in the past, and allow media to regulate itself.

The council regulates print media by a committee whose members are representatives of newspaper owners, editors and professional organisations as well as media professionals. Meanwhile, the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand is responsible for the regulation of broadcast media based on the same basic rules.

After 17 years of NPCT's ups and down, the chairman of the body had come forward and admitted that the council's self-regulation was no longer enough. New technology had changed the social situation, circumstances and people's behaviour.

The professional media could not be left vulnerable or dependent on other "media-performers" (non-professionals who act as the media). However, at the same time the media should not avoid examination and scrutiny from the public.

Meanwhile, in this time of crisis, it would be good for the media to take time to consider its reform. Just like reforms in the other areas, so many factors - including determination and wide-range participation - are needed.


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