Media rights in focus

Media rights in focus

Today marks World Press Freedom Day. The theme this year, according to Unesco, is: "Freedom of expression as a driver for all other human rights".

That theme is a reminder that freedom to report is not a mere privilege extended to the fourth estate. Media freedom, in fact, is a human right -- the right to communicate and speak up without fear of being intimidated or muzzled. Without that graceful prerogative, what would society be?

As the national election approaches in the next two weeks, press freedom is a salient issue, even if it rarely makes it onto campaign agendas. Candidates have advocated democratic ideals, public participation and campaigns to revise Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law.

Such pledges, of course, stand to improve democratic freedom. Yet more needs to be done to ensure freedom of the press and freedom of expression in Thailand.

Today, Thai media profession associations -- the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association of Thailand, and the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand -- have issued a joint statement with proposals to improve media freedom.

The statement demands the government and legislators be steadfast in upholding freedom of expression in various forms: not only the media's freedom to report, but the freedom of individuals to gather peacefully, and freedom of expression.

These demands appear in the current constitution, along with its predecessors. But governments, especially this one, have violated the charter by using excessive force to suppress peaceful gatherings and stifle freedom of expression.

A recent example is the crowd-control policies that use excessive force against protesters, including reporters covering the anti-government protests during the Apec meeting late last year.

The protesters might have violated the law. But law enforcers supplied with anti-riot gear, training, and a budget have a duty to enforce the law judiciously -- not meet violence with violence.

For this problem, the media bodies ask the next government and legislators to develop a reliable mechanism to investigate acts of violence or intimidation against the media and hold the perpetrators accountable to eliminate a culture of impunity.

The joint remarks also address another problem that the media and activists have faced: strategic lawsuits against public participation (SLAPP). SLAPP tactics have been used against activists and media outlets reporting on the environment and corruption.

Most plaintiffs are rich companies and powerful people. They exploit the defamation law with demands for expensive compensation to stop the media and cri­tics from exposing them.

Countries like the Philippines have passed a law that penalises malicious lawsuits designed to muzzle the media and end honest criticism.

Some journalists themselves might be less than clean, especially on ethics. However, the libel law and related criminal and civil laws are sufficient to hold them accountable.

If attempts are made to improve media ethics, the mechanism must be independent and endorse self-regulation, not state supervision. After all, Big Brother has never stopped at controlling journalists and social critics.

The media are messengers or, at best proud watchdogs, but in this day and age need protection.


Bangkok Post editorial column

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

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