Media curbs will backfire

Media curbs will backfire

The military regime has squirrelled away its media control bill since April. Presumably it is seeking "the right time" to bring it to the cabinet and send it to the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) for enactment.

The bill is only part of the regime's programme to bring the media under control and to heel.

The junta's theory is that all media should be subservient to the government. But it isn't, and the current plan to bypass the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press will surely backfire. It is not the media that will suffer most if it is put under the regime's thumb. The public, already rightly sceptical of the military regime's sometimes outlandish propaganda, will lose faith in it. A government-controlled media means more than a loss of critics. It means a loss of credibility.

Credit, then, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva and various media groups, especially the Thai Journalists Association (TJA). They have fought the good fight to keep the public informed of the regime's ultimate plan to curb and possibly end all press freedom. As Mr Abhisit told a seminar last week, the government should be barred by law from any interference with the media.

The regime's defence of the dreadful media control bill is that the media needs reforming and outsiders are more qualified to do it. Mr Abhisit's proper and correct response: The media can, does and will continue to reform. And even before it gains the fortitude to expose its control bill to the light of day through the cabinet and the legislature, the media is showing its true colours.

From the day of the May 22, 2014 coup, the regime of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has treated the media as hostile and even as an enemy. Editors and reporters were instructed on their "duty" to the regime. Those publishers, bylined reporters and oped commentators considered over the line were "invited" for a talk or the rightly infamous "attitude adjustment" sessions worthy only of the worst banana republics.

Of late and more loathsomely, the regime has begun applying Section 116 of the Criminal Code against what it sees as recalcitrant media members -- sedition. This old and rightly feared charge is a form of treason. Legally, sedition is an overt action to overthrow a government and hand it to hostile forces; treason is the same thing, done in secret.

In the eyes of the current regime, at least 20 cases of alleged sedition have been brought against Thai journalists and civil society members who criticised the regime or the coup. Astonishingly, in the past three years and three months, the absolutely secure junta has charged a total of 66 people with sedition. This is clearly prosecutorial harassment and an attempt by the regime to silence critics through intimidation.

As dreadful as that is, the media control bill is worse. In the first place, it is clearly against the supreme law, the regime's own constitution. The charter, approved by a hefty majority 13 months ago, clearly states the government must never intrude upon press matters. Yet the law that will go into effect any time the junta wants and it places the government in almost direct control -- not just of newspapers, TV news and the like, but everything internet.

There is plenty to oppose, but arguably the worst section of the pending media bill will require registration by "journalists". That includes bloggers, YouTube reporters and satirists, net idols and just about anyone using a keyboard to disseminate information and opinion from inside Thailand.

Government control of the press is never a good idea. Under the military, this government has surpassed even past dictators like Sarit Thanarath and Thanom Kittikachorn. The government must realise the media's responsibility is not to the regime, but to the nation.

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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