The bill on the promotion of media ethics and professional standards is set to be read by a joint session of parliament on Tuesday. Sponsored by the government's Public Relations Department (PRD), the legislation seeks to create a professional council for media practitioners, which would be funded by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission's (NBTC) media development fund.
The bill is a response to the increasing number of complaints about unethical reporting by media outlets, fake news and biased reporting, which are polarising society along socio-political lines. It assumes that these problems were caused by the lack of an overarching council which sets out and oversees the ethical and professional standards of media practitioners.
It is worth noting that the bill is part of the reform agenda initiated by the now-defunct National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), which took power following the 2014 coup.
After years of drafting and multiple revisions, the cabinet agreed to adopt the bill in January last year, but for it to become law, it has to be approved by parliament before its mandate expires.
A key feature of the bill is the creation of a council to prescribe ethical standards and promote and protect the rights, freedoms and independence of media organisations and practitioners.
Participation in the council is, however, voluntary. It will have no legal power to force media outlets to follow its standards, nor will it have the ability to impose penalties for ethical violations. At most, it could publicly denounce outlets which violate its professional and ethical standards.
While the intention might be good, professional media associations are demanding that parliament axe the bill, citing the lack of meaningful participation and input from media professionals during its drafting process, especially younger journalists who work for online outlets.
These associations are concerned that the bill will open the door for government intervention in reporting as a result of the council's involvement and funding.
In a statement released yesterday, the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) warned that the legislation needs to be updated.
"The bill was developed and written several years ago. Some of its content can no longer keep up with changes in society and in new media itself."
Lawmakers need to listen to these concerns. The bill will benefit from more input from media professionals. Of course, unethical media outlets -- which demand freedom of speech while not showing accountability for their reporting -- exist.
But this doesn't justify a top-down solution imposed without meaningful participation from those who will be affected by the bill the most.
Without a doubt, the bill's sponsor deserves some credit for wanting to improve the nation's media landscape. The bill, for instance, stipulates that the council must be chaired by a panel consisting of objective professionals, which would include academics, human rights activists, lawyers and consumer representatives. A neutral panel would be able to better help reporters who are facing pressure from their editorial board to write a biased and/or unethical report.
But at the heart of a successful law is the participation of all stakeholders. Without the media's input, this bill won't achieve its goal of regulating and upgrading media ethical and professional standards.