Critics say government’s media law is designed to control not support journalists

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Journalists and academic groups in Thailand are calling for the government to revise its media control bill which they say is repressive.

According to the critics, the Draft Media Ethics and Professional Standards Promotion Act is vague and concentrates on controlling the media more than supporting it.

“If the law has good intention then it should be revised and members of the press should be allowed to provide their opinions in its drafting process,” said Wasinee Pabuprapap, a journalist from Workpoint Today, during a seminar arranged by Thammasat University’s Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication on Tuesday.

She said the law could be used by the state to control the media.

The bill was proposed by the government’s Public Relations Department and approved by the Cabinet in January. The department is currently being run by Lieutenant General Sansern Kaewkamnerd, a former spokesman of the previous junta.

Rawee Tawantharong, the head of the Online News Providers Association, said existing laws provide enough regulation on media’s operation such as the Computer Crime Act. He questioned the vagueness of the law’s definitions.

“What about people who are working on Tiktok or people who are not working in the media but they are using social media to build their reputation or make income, will the law cover them as well?” he asked.

“The draft law provided a universally vague definition of members of the press…and it is something that is hard to do because the media’s ecosystem is constantly changing,” he said.

 He also said the “Press Profession Council”, which will be formed to overlook media licensing if the bill becomes law, should not be limited or controlled by the state.

Pongpiphat Banchanont, a senior editor at the Matter, said existing laws are already protecting people who provide information to the media and people who might be affected by some content.

He said various media associations are also providing enough guidelines on media ethics.  

“The heart of the bill is the formation of the council but media associations already existed…so the question that I have is what are the benefits from having another one?” he asked.

“The constitution is also doing its job in protecting media freedom, therefore, the proposal for the media ethic bill contains less benefits than weaknesses and no one has ever seen this bill in full,” he said.

He said the bill should be revised with more public participation in its drafting process and the government should not rush the bill into law without it.

Associate Professor Kulnaree Sueroj at Thammasat University’s Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication said the law is too vague, the new council will lead to confusion in the media’s operation and there is still a question on who will enforce the punishments that were written within the draft bill.

“The bill only stated that the council will gather information and pass them to people in power for consideration on the punishments,” she said.

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