Cabinet Approves Draft Law on Media Ethics

A file photo of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha operating a TV camera.
A file photo of PM Prayut Chan-o-cha operating a TV camera.

BANGKOK — Media personalities on Wednesday criticized a draft law that would allow suspension of media license on grounds of publishing contents deemed against “good morals of the public.”

The bill, formally called “Draft Media Ethics and Professional Standards Promotion Act,” was proposed by the government’s Public Relations Department and approved by the Cabinet on Tuesday. The department is chaired by Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, who served as the spokesman for the junta led by Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha.

“The government is trying to pass a law to control the press again,” Vanchai Tantivitayapitak, former deputy editor of Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS) posted online Wednesday. “The keyword is ‘good morals,’ which can be vaguely interpreted by the Press Council. Some media outlets, if violated, will probably be shut.”

The new law, which is due to be deliberated by the parliament, would require media organizations to be licensed and overseen by a new body called “Press Profession Council.” It is to be composed of 11 members chosen from various media organizations, a pool of experts, and an official from the government-controlled Thai Media Fund.

A sum of at least 25 million baht per annum is also allocated to establish and fund the new council. Once established, it would have the power to draft a set of standardized media ethics and take actions against media organizations or individual journalists who publish works deemed unethical.

Private citizens can also lodge a complaint if they believe to be affected by the work of unethical journalism.

It stipulates that while freedom of the press is guaranteed, “the exercise must not go against the duties of Thai people or good morals of the people.”

Uajit Viroktrairat, a media expert and former journalism lecturer, said while the press needs to evaluate its role, the bill is a backward move as the power will reside with the new council.

“How will media organizations react? Will you let the Public Relations Department, which is led by an army general, to push the law?”

Hathairat Phaholtap, editor of Isaan Record’s Thai edition, also asked whether the new council will be accepted by fellow journalists.

“Right now, the [existing] media associations are not accepted by journalists, so one must ask if this self-regulation is possible,” she said, adding she will oppose the draft law.

Thai Journalist Association has yet to comment on the matter.