Time to set the press free

Time to set the press free

A warning has been given. Thailand is inching closer towards becoming a new China when it comes to press freedom. The 2019 report by Reporters Without Borders indicates that the military regime has increasingly adopted the Chinese style of total news control. It speaks volumes about the dire situation here.

On World Press Freedom Day today, the media and Thai people have no reason to celebrate. Along with democracy, press independence and freedom of expression in Thailand have been eroded over the past five years under National Council for Peace and Order's (NCPO) rule. Intimidation of journalists, editorial interference, persecution of regime critics and the suspension of media outlets have become the new norm.

Since the 2014 coup, the NCPO's Orders No.97/2014 and 103/2014 have remained the major obstruction for the media when it comes to news reporting. The orders seek "cooperation" from the media to publicise the regime's propaganda and impose restrictions on what they should refrain from reporting, such as airing "false information" attacking the NCPO.

Of course, the orders have not resulted in sweeping media suppression. Authorities have been selective by taking action against vocal media outlets such as Peace TV and Voice TV, which have connections with politicians from the anti-regime camp. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission has punished Voice TV at least 24 times, including a broadcasting suspension just before the March 24 general election.

Other broadcasters are understood to have exerted a level of self-censorship. They would rather avoid problems than fix them.

Prominent broadcast journalists critical of the regime have also been either removed from their programmes or lost their jobs.

At the same time, certain media outlets have also suffered internal pressure. Their newsrooms have been watched and warned over their content.

And if intimidating the messengers is not bad enough, authorities have expanded their crackdown on freedom of expression to non-media people. Social media users, activists and politicians have become their new targets.

Thanks to draconian legislation, namely the Computer Crime Act (CCA), the criminal defamation law, the lese majeste law and the anti-sedition law, the authorities under the watch of the regime have sufficient tools to silence and punish them. For instance, the police and the NCPO have accused people of violating the CCA for entering "false information" into a computer system and slapped them with criminal charges. Many of these people merely expressed their opinions on politics or just unwittingly shared false information on social media.

For a country that once had far better freedom of expression, having gone through such state intimidation for half a decade is a big loss. Now that Thailand is undergoing a transition from military to civilian rule, it should do away with the NCPO's orders.

New lawmakers, especially those from the anti-regime political camp, must proceed with repealing the NCPO's orders. Additionally, draconian laws must be revised in order to prevent them from being exploited by authorities to silence and punish journalists and people who use the right to freedom of expression guaranteed by the constitution.

It may be a cliche to say that freedom of the press is freedom of the people. But that's true. And such freedom has lost its place in Thailand.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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