Media outlets oppose new law
Journalists say professional council overseeing sector would be vulnerable to political interference; urge NRSA to drop draft.
MEDIA ORGANISATIONS nationwide issued a joint statement yesterday against the media regulation bill, calling on the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) to drop the draft and threatening to step up their opposition to the measures until their voices are heard.
But the NRSA members insisted that they would continue pushing the draft, saying it would be benefit media outlets.
At the Thai Journalists Association office, scores of media practitioners gathered yesterday to discuss the contentious bill and show resistance to the NRSA’s media reform panel, as it is listed on the agenda of the reform body’s meeting today.
If the bill is backed by the NRSA today, it will be forwarded to the Cabinet and the National Legislative Assembly for consideration.
After two hours of consultation yesterday, Confederation of Thai Journalists president Thepchai Yong read out a joint statement.
It denounced the embattled bill as restricting press freedom rather than protecting it by opening the way for state authorities to interfere in the media’s affairs through the so-called Media Professional Council.
Besides having a direct impact on the press, the council would also limit people’s freedom of expression and access to information, the group said.
“We call on the NRSA to drop the bill and review the necessity for such legislation. If not, we will step up our measures against the bill,” the group warned.
The Confederation said media outlets had been developing a system of self-regulation to ensure media responsibility and to meet the public’s changing demands.
The statement was endorsed by 30 media organisations from both local and national levels. They include major groups like the Thai Journalists Association, Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, and Society of Online News Providers, plus regional groups such the Network of Southern Journalists and Network of Northern Journalists.
Thepchai said media organisations had never objected to regulation, but the mechanism that would be set up if the regulatory bill were passed did not allow self-regulation and media would be controlled by state authorities.
The Media Professional Council, a key feature of the proposed bill, would play a crucial role in regulation of the press, he said. It would be made up of 13 members, four of whom would be permanent secretaries from the Office of the Prime Minister, plus the Finance, Culture and the Digital Economy and Society ministries.
“What this means is that media regulation would fall under political influence,” Thepchai said. “The permanent secretary is the highest position in the civil service career, but it is appointed by politicians. So, they would be nothing but politicians’ proxies.”
The media profession council would have authority – like “a blank cheque”, he said – to issue regulations, including qualifications and rules regarding media licences.
The council could revoke a group’s licence if practitioners failed to comply with regulations. Thepchai said the balance of power would be lost if politicians could check and scrutinise the press when it should be the other way around – with the media scrutinising politicians.
“The media is one important pillar in the checks and balances system in democracy, as it scrutinises and boosts transparency in politics,” the journalists’ federation president said. “But when they are vulnerable to this kind of legal and political power, it poses a big question – to what extent the media can maintain their role in scrutinising state authority, political authority, or interests groups.”
He said the bill posed a threat to press freedom and the public’s right to access news and information.
Journalists proposed self-regulation as a more appropriate way to ensure media responsibility. They said their news outlets were also regulated by other mechanisms such as the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission and defamation laws.
Meanwhile, Air Chief Marshal Kanit Suwannet, head of the NRSA’s media reform committee, said the reformers believed private media outlets and the public sector must cooperate to find the best solution.
Kanit said having four permanent secretaries sit on the Media Professional Council would support the media rather than be a stumbling block to press freedom. Such a set-up would also create a balance between the state and the media, he told The Nation. “I don’t think permanent secretaries, who are the most senior civil servants, would do anything to interfere with the media. More importantly, I don’t think the media can be controlled,” Kanit said.
“The NRSA is not responsible for writing the regulations, the professional council will be. So, you can lay down anything you think appropriate. It’s still under your control.”
Danger of control over news industry
Issues of concern in the National Reform Steering Assembly’s proposed “media reform” bill
Media organisations are opposing the regulatory bill and insisting on self-regulation due to the following concerns:
The bill proposes a so-called Media Professional Council, which would have the power to dictate media regulations and a code of conduct, as well as issue or revoke press licences that are needed to practise journalism. Such powers could result in total control of the media.
The bill could open the door to political influence and |control of the media as the |professional council would comprise four permanent |secretaries who could be |proxies for politicians.