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Media bill was aimed at ‘regulating’ not ‘controlling’

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​​​​​​​With the media reform committee under the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) planning to submit tomorrow its media reform proposal, which includes the controversial media regulation bill, to the government, the committee’s chairman Air Chief Marshal Kanit Suwannet speaks to The Nation’s Piyaporn Wongruang about the progress of their work as well as the philosophy behind the bill.

Do you still feel pressure considering the strong opposition from media groups and the public at large?

Well, we cannot stop people from believing in what they believe, right? But we too believe that our intention in this work was pure, and we will do our best. There were several rounds of deliberations among our committee members before it was proposed at the NRSA meeting [on May 1].

At this point, the proposal is awaiting consideration by the government. We can say that we have finished our job and I feel more relaxed. We are here to study and make recommendations. There are several more steps to go, and it’s up to those above us now.

Could you elaborate on the plan to forward the proposal to the government, and how have you revised the proposals following the recommendations made during the NRSA meeting?

The paper to be submitted to the government will not include only our proposal. Our proposal – the draft bill – remains unchanged from the one tabled before the NRSA to consider and endorse on May 1. This will be accompanied by several appendices comprising all recommendations made during the NRSA meeting, the now-defunct National Reform Council (NRC)’s media reform proposal and draft bill, the draft bill made by six media professional groups, Thailand Development Research Institute’s research, and some others. All will be jointly submitted to the government. This is to show our sincerity. It can pick any proposals according to its discretion.

You mean you did not revise the proposal following the recommendations?

Like I said, what we will submit is the proposal, which was endorsed by the NRSA, along with the NRSA members’ recommendations, and some other papers in the appendixes.

There were two issues that we and the media groups saw differently. One was the proposed media professional council that would have two ministry permanent secretaries sitting along with other members. The other was the licensing |system.

So, I proposed to them that we meet in the middle so that we could move forward. That’s why we have changed from licensing system to accreditation and certification system.

On this issue, I must say that all professions have such a system. For more than 20 years, you have been regulating yourselves, but it’s proved that it’s not been successful. When someone broke your code, and you found that they had broken the code, you could not punish them as they just left you. That’s what really happened before.

So, we thought to make it effective for you to truly be able to regulate one another, there should be some legal grounds to support, and that’s the reason why the licensing system was first proposed. But as you opposed it, we have toned it down to accreditation and certification, which you would be running on your own. It’s still a self-regulation, but needs certification to back up.

 And what about having two state officials sitting on the proposed council, do we still need them?

The NRSA voted 141 for and 13 against in endorsing the proposal, including this point, and that’s a majority vote. Regard your concerns, I cannot really see how two council members could override the majority of 15.

This does not make sense at all – this claim that there would be state interference in media work as a result of this.

I personally trust the integrity of permanent secretaries. They have earned it to reach these top posts |and I don’t think that they would |do anything to ruin their reputa-tion.

We want them because they can help link you to the government. In fact, you have to deal with the government any way. For instance, if you want to run a newspaper, you have to make a request to the Culture permanent secretary.

But to make you feel more comfortable, I proposed at the NRSA meeting that I would place their terms like that of the senators during the five-year transitional period. This is to help ensure that a good foundation for media in the future will be laid, with structures, rules, regulations that are needed. It’s their job too, any way.

If you don’t want this, can you tell me if there are any countries in this world where either the private sector or the government works all on its own? These two sectors must work together somehow.

So, it seems that it’s all about the media and how they behave that is your prime challenge to tackle?

Our prime contention is that any business affecting the public at large must be regulated. We don’t want to use the word “control” because it’s not. Let me say, “regulating”, as it’s actually regulating, not controlling.

Media is a business that can have an impact on the public at large because people read your news widely. As your work affects the public, there has to be some responsibility.

We did work upon the NRC’s proposal and made it more complete. For instance, the NRC did not dwell much on the online sector, so we worked extensively on this sector because we realised that online could have far-reaching impacts – any time, anywhere in this world.

However, it’s not all about their proposal. What we did is extend the idea until it’s become our proposal. We have given weight to both actors, the media and the public. But as |the impact of your work is far-reaching, we have given it a lot more weight.

There are a number of cases that reflect one true fact – that the quality of your work is in question. A lot of people have experienced damage as a result of your work, even before their action is proved. This kind of experience, if it doesn’t happen to ourselves, we would never feel that.

So, your proposal no longer focuses on legalising some vague media regulation procedures based on self-regulation like the NRC’s any more?

Whether it’s legalising procedures or institutionalising, what needs to be is something we always pay heed to. But as I said, we have paid attention to the damage at large. In a wide society, where we have to live together, there must be some ground rules to help people live together in peace. It’s not controlling, it’s regulating.

I myself was an electric engineer, a jet pilot. So, I know how machines work – they work in a clear-cut manner – with numbers, plus or minor, and exact results.

So, I am rather familiar with dealing with things in a clear-cut manner, not something grey. And this time it is the media that I deal with, and I must say that we have a pure intention to help you to become more accountable and as a result more stable than you are now.

 

Published : May 13, 2017

By : Piyaporn Wongruang