Media homes in on two controversial bills

WHEN it comes to the issue of freedom, controversies always follow and such messy situation has hit the Thai society at the moment as the mainstream and social media sector is opposing two bills threatening their freedom.

The two are draft media bill and the Computer Crime bill.

There are both proponents and opponents for the two bills but as usual, the opponents are not the silent majority.

The two bills have been brewed by the authorities under this government as many have found the press and netizens to exercise their freedom some time beyond limits, encroaching on the freedom of others for so long. The general public felt responsibility and freedom have to go together.

“If you don’t want to take responsibility, you can’t have freedom either,” said a source. “The two come or go together. If you shun responsibility, you have to accept slavery in one way or the other.”

Just late last week six media organizations demanded the junta-backed media reform committee reconsider the draft of the media bill and proposed a counter draft, which includes a committee as a self-regulating mechanism and aims to protect media rights and freedom.

They are: the National Press Council, the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand, the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the Online News Providers Association and Thailand Cable TV Association. They submitted a letter, including their own draft, to chairman of the media reform committee Kanit Suwannet.

Their representative, TJA president Wanchai Wongmeechai denounced the draft bill, saying it paved the way for the state to interfere in the media, which goes against the principles laid out in the new constitution.

The media regulation bill proposed by the reform committee under the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) regulates that media practitioners should apply for a license. But the bill stipulates that a professional council comprised of four permanent secretaries have the authority to revoke the license.  The TJA president said such a practice authorized state interference affecting media freedom.

The draft bill is now being considered at the committee level and has not yet been approved by the reform assembly and it remains unclear when it will be passed into law.

The six organizations proposed their version of the draft bill, which puts in place a committee to protect media rights and freedom and promote media professional standards in place of the National Media Profession Council proposed in the draft bill.

But in fact, some media organizations insist on self-regulation to maintain press freedom, saying they have their own code of conduct.

Proponents of this controversial law have said the media never proved it could self-regulate and has often violated freedom of the public.

A media analyst said the current mechanism has weaknesses that resulted in the failure of self-regulation as membership was on a voluntary basis and could not be enforced inclusively or effectively.

There are few classic examples as to the failure to self-regulate.

A few years ago as reported by the Nation, vice president of Matichon Public Company Limited resigned as the newspaper publisher’s representative to the National Press Council of Thailand to protest what he said was its flawed investigation of the media-bribery scandal.

In his resignation letter – in which he also quit the council’s board – Sommai Paritchart admitted that allegations that politicians had bribed journalists had hurt the image of Thai newspapers, including Matichon. He added that the National Press Council of Thailand had been warned that by appointing a panel to probe the scandal, it risked becoming embroiled in political conflicts.

Pheu Thai Party deputy spokes-man Wim Rungwattanajinda was accused of writing an e-mail to his boss saying he had paid 20,000 baht each to numerous journalists at newspapers and television networks in return for prioritizing their coverage of Yingluck Shinawatra, then the party’s prime minister candidate. Matichon columnists were mentioned in the e-mail.

Later Matichon Group comprising Matichon, Khao Sod and Prachachart Turakij newspapers decided to withdraw from the National Press Council of Thailand in protest the council’s investigation into the bribery scandal that implicates the newspaper publisher.

And just this year Naew Na newspaper also decided to quit the National Press Council of Thailand.
Naew Na cited the council’s failure to create its own regulatory system in the 19 years since it was established as a reason for the paper’s withdrawal.

A source from Naew Na said some of its executives were dissatisfied with the role of the council, particularly after an executive faced legal action and the council failed to come to the newspaper’s defense.

As for the Computer Crime Bill, which has been widely protested by the net warriors, the situation has spread into hacking government web sites creating embarrassments among government officials.

The government responded by providing more information to the public to brush aside public concerns about their privacy in using the internet but to no avail, resulting in some alleged hackers being arrested.

Five suspects have been detained for alleged involvement in the hacking of government and security agency websites, some of which were knocked out of service temporarily.

The crackdown is expected to lead to the round-up of about 100 people believed responsible for the attacks after changes to the new Computer Crime Bill were approved last week by the National Legislative Assembly.

The cyber war is not over yet as the anti-single Internet gateway group said on Facebook that their next target was “Baan Loong Tu” or Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha’s home, which was understood to mean the websites of the Armed Forces.


Top: A printing press with type set for the United States Declaration of Independence with this being the original Internet. Photo: Don McCullough (CC-BY-2.0)

By Kowit Sanandang


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