BANGKOK — A leader of the ruling junta said Monday that it will push ahead with new regulations decried by journalists as an attempt to gain control of the media.
The law, which would for the first time require all media professionals to obtain licenses, is being deliberated by junta lawmakers under the claim it would instill responsibility and ethics among reporters. Thirty Thai media associations gathered Sunday to announce their opposition to the bill, which stopped short of criticizing the junta for introducing it.
Deputy junta chairman Prawit Wongsuwan said their dissent is misguided.
“The [junta] has never thought about controlling the media. We only want the media to speak the truth,” Gen. Prawit said, despite its record of censoring and threatening critical reporters. “I have never lied to reporters. I have always spoken the truth, and I want reporters to speak the truth, too.”
Prawit also said the bill, called the “Protecting Liberty and Promoting Ethics and Professional Standards of Media Profession Act,” will be deliberated by the so-called National Reform Steering Assembly as planned.
Though proponents of the bill argue it is necessary to rein in the media’s widespread disregard for basic ethics, representatives from more than 30 media organizations who gathered in protest at the Thai Journalists Association said the measures would go too far.
“[The bill] was not based on the basic principles of protecting rights and liberty of media professions,” read a joint statement released at Sunday’s news conference. “Instead, it focuses on controlling the media by using state power to interfere with its independence.”
The statement demanded that the bill be scrapped immediately, otherwise media associations would “escalate measures in opposing the draft of this law to the very end.”
But the tone at yesterday’s protest was far from confrontational. In fact, a key media rep even struck a conciliatory note with the junta, saying that he’s far more worried about potential abuse by a civilian governments to follow the current military regime.
“I believe the current government won’t use this law,” Thepchai Yong, president of the Thai Broadcasting Journalists Association, told reporters. “But the people who will abuse the law are the politicians who will come to power after the election.”
He added, “Politicians want this kind of law to control the media. It’s just they cannot issue this kind of law under a democratic regime.”
The draft of the law calls for registration of all reporters across all media platforms. The task of issuing, regulating and revoking such licences would fall to a committee which sources indicate would be made up of media professionals, unspecified experts and high-ranking government officials.
The bill also establishes guidelines for what is acceptable reporting. Section 27 specifically requires reporters to only present information that “does not violate the morals of society, does not cause more harm than benefit and does not consider the public’s benefit above all else.”
Reporters found guilty of violating the media guidelines would be fined or even stripped of their licenses.