Bill on media council gets cabinet nod

Bill on media council gets cabinet nod

Body will scrutinise conduct, reporting

Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and Government House reporters make heart gestures during a photo shoot in May 2019 after having lunch together at Government House. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha and Government House reporters make heart gestures during a photo shoot in May 2019 after having lunch together at Government House. (Photo: Chanat Katanyu)

A draft bill on the promotion of media ethics and professional standards has cleared the cabinet and is headed to parliament for further scrutiny.

The bill seeks to create a professional council for media practitioners, which would be financed by a state fund.

The cabinet agreed to adopt the bill, which was sponsored by the Public Relations Department, on Tuesday after it was vetted by the Council of State, the government's legal arm.

The bill, which is now waiting for parliament to accept it for deliberation, is part of the national reform initiative.

A key feature of the bill is the creation of a council to promote and protect the rights, freedoms and independence of media organisations and practitioners.

In addition to stipulating that news reports must be ethical, accurate, factual, comprehensive and fair, the bill stresses that the exercise of media freedoms must not infringe on social mores.

At present, no overarching association or council is authorised to apply and enforce ethical and professional standards on media practitioners, the bill's sponsor contended.

Under the bill, media organisations will be required to register with the council, which is tasked with monitoring their activities.

After a cabinet review, the bill was amended to state that employees of state-run media outlets have the right to refuse a superior's order if they believe it goes against media ethics. If passed, the council will get at least 25 million baht in state funding each year.

The council -- which will include five representatives of media organisations and five independent experts -- will be tasked with setting the ethical standards for reporting, the bill stated.

It will also outline measures to be taken against media practitioners and/or organisations that carry out their duties in a way that violates professional ethics, it said.

Chavarong Limpattamapanee, chairman of the National Press Council of Thailand, described the bill as the best media-related piece of legislation to date.

In the bill's drafting, media professionals were invited to give input, which was unheard of in the past, he said, adding it was beneficial to the concept and practice of media self-regulation.

Mr Chavarong said existing media councils set up to regulate the conduct and ethics of newspapers and broadcast firms would continue to exist.

Once those agencies register with the council, they will be authorised to take up complaints relating to the conduct of media outlets, the bill stated, adding the council's decision on such complaints are final.

Media outlets which are not registered with the council may face investigation by authorities, the bill states.

Mana Treerayapiwat, ex-dean of the School of Communication Arts at the University of Thai Chamber of Commerce, said ethics are crucial for media firms.

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