A disturbing media bill

A disturbing media bill

There is a proposed law currently working its inexorable way through the junta's legal maze that needs to be killed. It currently carries the misleading and Orwellian title of media reform. In fact, the proposal never intended such action, not that a military-directed committee could possibly achieve such a goal. The aim is simply to put all media under government supervision and ominous control.

The origin of this probably unconstitutional bill is the "media reform sub-committee" of the National Reform Steering Assembly. The NRSA consists entirely of junta-appointed members who are mostly, nevertheless, honest men and women trying to take up the spirit of reform in many fields. One of them, Air Chief Marshal Kanit Suwannate, became the chairman of the media reform group.

ACM Kanit is a trained scientist and graduate of the Air Force Academy. He rose to the position of assistant chief of air staff for tactical strikes, after which he served as personnel director before his retirement. He has no recorded experience in the media or allied groups.

The NRSA came into existence following the failure of the National Reform Council. Almost from the moment of his appointment as chief of the media sub-committee ACM Kanit has battled single-mindedly for his vision of a future where every mainstream medium -- newspapers, magazines, radio, TV, broadcast recording and photography -- come under direct government supervision. His proposal has evolved but the latest version seems likely to prevail and make it to the full reform assembly, and then possibly on to the National Legislative Assembly.

Here are the parts that mock and effectively overturn the constitution's guarantee of a free press. His proposed law would establish a new "National Media Profession Council". There, again, we see Orwellian double-speak, because this council would consist mostly of people outside the media. Two government permanent secretaries would dominate. It will have the power to "punish" erring media members.

But there is more, and it's worse. Every journalist, broadcast, presenter and interview host must register and obtain a government ID card as a "real" media worker. Even this odious feature, seen in a couple of the very worst dictatorships such as North Korea and Saudi Arabia, isn't the worst part. ACM Kanit hasn't even considered that in 2017 every citizen is a potential journalist, reporting on one or many of hundreds of major, popular internet outlets.

ACM Kanit's time with journalists has been extremely meagre, more's the pity. He has usually not even shown up for meetings with groups with as the National Union of Journalists of Thailand (NUJT) and the Thai Journalists Association (TJA). Instead, he has sent along his deputy, who apparently has no persuasive power with his boss.

If he had met and listened to real journalists, ACM Kanit could have known the real state of the media in Thailand. It is ludicrous even to suggest that the government can "reform" it to meet the definition given in the new constitution. The supreme law now states (Section 35): "A person of mass media profession shall enjoy the liberty to report news or express opinion in compliance with professional ethics."

There is nothing there about government ethics. The dictatorial decree to license journalists is certain to fail in the internet age. But before that, it will hold this and every future regime up to foreign ridicule and censure. The only acceptable solution is to kill this bill before it advances further.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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