Legal and media experts working to hammer out common reform package on libel laws

21 January 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Allaince

Thais working to hammer out common reform package on libel laws Thai legal and media experts are working to hammer out a common agenda to reform the country’s libel laws, but are split over the question of whether or not libel should be decriminalised.

Thai lawyers, academics, right activists and media practitioners came together on 13 January 2005 to study recommendations to at least promote scrupulous and appropriate use of libel laws.

Press Council of Thailand (TPCT) Chairman Pongsak Payakvichien said the workshop managed to concretize reform initiatives on the use of libel laws that will later be presented to the judiciary for further consideration. “We hope these proposals would be treated in good faith as an attempt to improve justice for all sides concerned in the use of libel laws,” said Pongsak.

Participants to the workshop – the second in a series of brainstorming sessions organized by the TPCT – were concerned about a criminal law on libel, whose harsh penalties could threaten civil liberties and have a chilling effect on the press. They said there was a need to educate the public about this threat, and to defend those acting in the public’s interest from abuses of libel law.

Other participants however argued for the continued criminalisation of libel, saying civil libel penalties are not severe enough to deter irresponsible journalism and the abuse of public speech.

Still, the workshop proceeded on the consensus that common ground could be found.

One compromise being reviewed is a possible provision where criminal penalty may be applied only if plaintiffs could prove “ill will” or malice on the part of those accused of libel.

While disagreements over some details remain, the workshop participants also agreed on the following strategies:

a.. A proposal to enact regulations that will guide police investigators in mediating contending parties in the libel cases so as to reduce the number of lawsuits clogged in courts.
b.. The formulation of clear guidelines to preserve defendants’ rights
c.. To promote awareness among the general public and executive and judiciary branches on the existence of the national press council and its mediating mechanisms. This will allow all parties to see the council as an alternative and effective mechanism for lodging complaints against the press.
d.. To forge understanding among judiciary officials on human right concepts and on the vitality of protecting civil liberties under the constitution
e.. To amend the present criminal law on libel to strengthen protection on stories that are of public interest, and to incorporate the mediating mechanism on the public’s right to reply, as provided under Thailand’s 1941 Printing Act.

On penalty and damage compensation under libel offences, however, the experts remained split over the question of whether or not to totally decriminalise such offences. Nonetheless, all sides were open to at least authorising the courts to replace criminal penalties like jail terms with more lenient punishments like imposing fines.

For further information, contact Kulachada Chaipipat or Rosario Liquicia at SEAPA, 538/1 Samsen Road, Dusit, Bangkok, 10300 Thailand, tel/fax: +662 243 5579, e-mail: seapa@seapabkk.org, Internet: http://www.seapabkk.org

The information contained in this capsule report is the sole responsibility of SEAPA. In citing this material for broadcast or publication, please credit SEAPA.

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