Six local media organisations on Thursday condemned the government's invocation of the 2005 Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situation, which they said introduces measures that affect press freedom.
The joint statement was issued by the National Press Council of Thailand, the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand, the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the Society for Online News Providers and the National Union of Journalists.
The government on Saturday began using the 2005 Emergency Decree, including Section 9, which stipulates a curfew and curbs on public gatherings and the dissemination of misleading information as part of its coronavirus containment measures.
According to the groups, the decree outlaws "the distortion of information and news that cause misunderstanding in the emergency situation, the presentation and dissemination of news in books, published material and other media that contain messages that incite fear to the public, or intentionally distort information to create misunderstanding in emergency situation that impacts state security, peace and morality of the public".
Any infraction will be considered a violation of the Emergency Decree.
It said that the six media organisations met on Thursday to discuss concerns regarding the change.
They found the measure differs from the previous enactment of an emergency decree, where the scope was limited to information related to the Covid-19 pandemic and the presentation of false news or information.
The previous measure also required law enforcement officials to warn, suspend, or instruct offenders to amend the information before legal action was taken, it said.
The omission of such crucial clauses in this case amounts to the empowerment of state officials to enforce measures at their own discretion.
They are worried state officials will exploit this new discretion to crack down hard on supposed infringements.
The move could affect the media's ability to do its job and the public's freedom of expression and right to know, the groups said.
"We urge the government to reconsider the new measures," it said.
"The rights to information and expression cannot be infringed [upon], especially during this ongoing crisis."