21 February 2003
Source: SEAPA/TJA Press Release
Three journalists’ associations on Thursday protested against a government bill they say curbs press freedom.
In a joint press conference, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the Thai Journalists Association, and the Business Reporters Association condemned the bill as counterproductive to the on-going media reform process and would enable politicians to exert control over broadcast media.
The bill, proposed by 20 members of ruling Thai Rak Thai party will allow a council to issue ethical guidelines and punish offending media outlets. Offending items could be taken off the air, and broadcasters and operators suspended or jailed.
Thepchai Yong, vice-chairman of the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association attacked the draft process of the bill was not transparent as it was written by political interest group, without prior consulting with media professional groups. No public hearing had been held.
Mr Thepchai said a provisional clause allowing the prime minister to pick council members confirmed the government’s intention to control the media. “This goes against against the media reform which is intent on giving media freedom without political influence”, Thepchai said.
Thepchai said the jail sentence imposed by the bill will give the said disciplinary council illegitimate power since sentences for media offenses have already been in place under other laws including criminal law.
Veera Pratheepchaikul, president of Thai Journalists Association said barring people who did not hold media licence from broadcasting interfered with the constitutional right to freedom of expression.
Under Article 39 of the Constitution, radio and television station owners had their own mechanisms for screening broadcasters. A system of accountability enabled media professional groups to cross-check one another.
The Thai Rak Thai MPs are promoting the bill after the Independent News Network (INN) last week ran an interview in which Deputy Prime Minister Purachai Piumsombun criticised Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for removing him as justice minister.
The associations said the use of INN context was an intent to divert attention from conflict in the Thai Rak Thai party and to justify controlling the media.
The three associations urged the politicians involved to stop pushing the bill. Instead, they said the government and parties concerned should instead show its commitment to media reform, promote freedom of the press, and stop monopolizing broadcast frequencies.