Scrap heap for media bill

Scrap heap for media bill

The National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) is guilty of too much self-flattery if it really believes its "media reform" proposal will work as planned. The junta-appointed group received a report and recommended a new law from its sub-committee on ways of reforming the press. This is a radical proposal that seeks to bring all Thai media, even part-time internet bloggers and podcasters, under government control. It is a proposal with no redeeming features, and must be rejected outright.

The media is in constant need of reform, repair and evolution. But it is astounding the government and its post-coup committees feel it can simply be controlled from the top-down. For starters, the proposed law would lock all media into a single model, a place from where they could no longer develop or move with the times. Such latitude would be impossible under the stifling and hugely bureaucratic control now under discussion.

The idea of putting all journalists under a form of government intimidation was the brainchild of ACM Kanit Suwannate. While once a top-notch achiever while in the military, he has assumed a position on press freedom that is right out of the 1960s or 1970s.

That was when the military dictatorships kept the press under control with a law called Article 42. It enabled the government to close and put newspapers out of business if they displeased the regimes of those bad old days.

ACM Kanit has stated honestly he wants to push the Thai media backwards until it is pacified, "like in Singapore". This idea passed its shelf life several decades ago. While he was serving the country honourably as a fighter-pilot instructor and combat commander, Thailand was moving on.

He has a completely out-of-date view of today's media and has entered into the reform arena a proposed law that is not just unacceptable and unsuited for the 21st century and Thailand 4.0, but is actually unenforceable.

If adopted by the full NRSA, National Legislative Assembly and government, the media reform law would have most ridiculously required the government to approve and licence every journalist in the nation. The fact is the internet, as the meme goes, has made everyone a journalist.

Breaking news often comes from citizen-reporters on social media. There is also a contentious issue regarding state representation of the National Media Professional Council.

But stripping ACM Kanit's bill of this dotty section still leaves a law that literally ends freedom of the press. The problem is not the little details like licensing journalists.

It is the intent and language of the entire law. Chairman Thinnaphan Nakhata and his 200-member NRSA must realise that a government- and military-dominated "National Media Profession Council" cannot credibly exist in a country where the constitution specifically -- and at length -- guarantees freedom of the press and speech.

This bill proposes to take away both those guaranteed freedoms. The only reason advanced by ACM Kanit is that the press is unruly. What that means is the press speaks with many voices. This is a good thing. Military units have one voice, and a government speaks in unity. The press has a responsibility and a duty never to align with the single opinion of government, as ACM Kanit wishes.

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha last week said he was far from convinced the media reform bill had value. In truth, it does not. The entire bill should be scrapped.

Editorial

Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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