Govt MPs Back Media Curbs Bill

20 February 2003
Source: Bangkok Post

Twenty Thai Rak Thai party MPs have backed a bill creating a media council to set “ethical”‘ standards for broadcast media, and take them off the air if they don’t meet them.

This comes after the Independent News Network (INN) aired an interview in which Deputy Prime Minister Purachai Piumsombun sharply rebuked the prime minister for the recent cabinet reshuffle.

Chakkrapan Yomchinda, one of the MPs behind the bill, said the draft was conceived as a result of INN’s broadcast. Concerns were raised that if the law did not change to regulate media conduct, news broadcasts could turn into forum where damaging remarks were directed at other people.

The bill sought to establish a central council to “draw a professional framework around the broadcast media.”

The bill yesterday made it on to parliament’s agenda after it received the backing of Sanoh Thienthong, the Thai Rak Thai advisory chairman. Mr Sanoh signed the bill on Prime Minister Thaksin’s behalf.

The MPs who sponsored the bill said the measure would defuse rows between the media and politicians and conflicts among media people themselves.

The council would comprise up to 23 board executives and members. They would monitor and regulate television and radio media, and issue ethical standards for the media.

The council would consider ethical issues independently of other independent agencies.

A provisional clause was written allowing the prime minister to hand-pick council executives and members.

The draft bill said media people breaching ethical codes issued by the council could be put on probation, suspended from work, or lose their registration.

As the government controls the airwaves, the threat of cancelling an operator’s licence would effectively give it control over all broadcast media outlets, public and private.

Article 49 of the bill allows the council to ban the media from broadcasting if it felt the outlets had repeated an ethical breach or the breach was severe enough to warrant the council pulling the item off the air.

The bill has come as a shock to media outlets and NGOs.

Supinya Klangnarong, deputy secretary-general of the Campaign for Media Reform, said the bill was another attempt by the government to exert control over the media.

The government had not consulted the media in drafting the bill and did not put it up for public hearings.

The prime minister should not be given a free hand to appoint the council.

A proposal that council members comprise representatives of the television and radio media confederation was also a worry.

The confederation was started by entertainment media businesses. Ms Supinya said the government appeared to be ganging up with entertainment media to manipulate other arms of the broadcast media.

Senator Chirmsak Pinthong said the government should leave the drafting of such law to the media organisations. Ethical regulation should not be imposed.

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