Worrying direction for ‘media reform’

To contribute to the discussions on the drafting of the Constitution of Thailand, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) compared the provisions related to media, press freedom, and free expression in the second draft to the previous charters.

The junta-appointed Constitution Drafting Committee, chaired by Meechai Ruchupan, released the draft on 29 January 2016 and received comments from stakeholders until 15 February 2016. The committee expects the revised charter to be completed by the end of March 2016. Following this process, Thailand will hold a Constitutional referendum in July 2016 and an elections in July 2017.

The current draft indicates which direction the current government is taking the Thai people, particularly in terms of media freedom and free expression.

The current draft neglected the guarantee for human rights, which the previous Constitutions provided explicitly. This leaves room for interpretation and can lead to unwarranted restrictions of citizens’ freedoms and rights.

If retained in its present form, the provisions on media freedom and free expression in the second draft constitution have set back Thailand’s struggle for democracy by at least 20 years.

Specific concerns:

  • Inclusion of the phrase “prevent rift and hate,” which sets broad rules for possible future cases (Section 34, paragraph 1 and Section 36, paragraph 2);
  • Use of the term “academic right” rather than “academic freedom” (Section 34, paragraph 2);
  • Less editorial independence for journalists in state-owned media (Section 35, paragraph 6);
  • The possibility of more state control over the media through subsidies (Section 35, paragraph 5);
  • The state and the existing National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission (NBTC) will direct and control the distribution of broadcast frequencies. The current NBTC will no longer be considered as an independent regulatory body as the state will have to order its reestablishment following the passage of the draft constitution (Section 56, paragraph 1 and 3 and Section 265);
  • Inclusion of “national interest” and “security of state” rather than only public interest as factors in broadcast frequency regulation (Section 56, paragraph 1 and 3 and Section 265).

Annex

Comparison of the 2016 draft Constitution provisions on media freedom and free expression with similar provisions in the 2007 and 1997 Constitutions

Note: This comparison is based on unofficial English translations, with SEAPA providing translations of the 2016 draft. Government translations of the two previous charters are found online.

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