NLA bill 'aims to gag criticism'

NLA bill 'aims to gag criticism'

The already-limited critical voice of Thai society will diminish further if the "media rights protection and professional standard bill" is passed, say non-mainstream media professionals.

Supporting the mainstream media organisations' opposition to the bill, Kannikar Kijtiwatchakul, an FM radio news host, said the bill would destroy diversity in the media profession.

"It's quite clear the bill will be against media outlets that deliver messages the government doesn't want to hear, such as investigative reports including those critical of the junta and corruption," said Ms Kannikar.

At a recent meeting in Bangkok, media activists said online media such as Isra News, Thai Publica, Prachatai, Khaosod English and Voice TV would be susceptible to government control if a new mechanism was created. While the public has relied on outspoken, non-mainstream media outlets because mainstream ones have already been curbed and self-censored over the years, the bill could shrink, if not close, the space and channel for information, Ms Kannikar explained.

The National Reform Steering Assembly has proposed a new bill to set moral standards for the media, which has been blamed for creating social ills.

The National Legislative Assembly's bill, to be considered on Monday, is even harsher with blunt control through licensing and a vague definition on ethics.

"Balanced views that have been minimised since the coup will be affected if such a draft is endorsed. Self-regulation is still needed but not in the form that gives state officials a direct say or regarding licensing," said the veteran radio host.

The Confederation of Thai Journalists (CTJ), which comprises 10 professional media bodies including the Thai Journalists Association, has vowed to oppose the bill.

According to the CTJ the bill is not based on principles of rights and liberty protection but aimed at media control which is not in line with the constitution passed in the August referendum.

The meeting agreed that the intention of the referendum charter was to allow self-regulation.

But the bill, instead, will set up a new media council, which will include officials from four ministries and whose role will be to register media professionals and issue and revoke licences.

Ed Legaspi, Southeast Asian Press Alliance executive director, said the media bill would create a mechanism that would pose greater restrictions on Thai media which have not existed since the 1997 constitution.

"It's quite alarming and disturbing. Some say the measures help reform the profession, but once you actually lay down punitive measures against the media, it's already a bad step," he said.

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