Freedom key to press thriving, groups say

Freedom key to press thriving, groups say

The press must enjoy greater freedom to produce accurate, fair and balanced reporting, journalists told a seminar yesterday.

For over a decade, the Thai media has been the subject of heated debate, between those who point to restrictions on freedoms of the press and urge for those limitations be lifted, and others, who call for reporters and editors to show more responsibility, said Supinya Klangnarong, a National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) member.

However, these two poles -- freedom and responsibility -- are inseparable, she argued.

"If freedom of the press is restricted, there can never be responsible reporting," she said at an event organised by the NBTC and Amnesty International to commemorate World Press Freedom Day, which took place on March 3.

Journalists, to do their work responsibly, must first be allowed to produce well-rounded and accurate news reports, to tackle a wide range of topics and be given sufficient access to do so, Ms Supinya added.

The laws and regulations imposed on the Thai media do not really serve the purpose of protecting media consumers from biased reporting, said Pannika Wanich, a Voice TV journalist and program host.

They are used instead to secure the interests of the government and those in power.

There is no unique criteria according to which those rules are applied, she added, pointing to flaws in the judicial system as well.

"What if one media outlet thinks their reports are accurate and balanced, but someone else does not think so? Whose opinion will prevail?" she asked.

The government and powerful figures are still the ones calling the shots, determining which outlet's report is deemed accurate and which present "unbalanced" news.

They then proceed to limit the freedom of news organisations that go against their judgement, Ms Pannika added.

Thailand, which was once viewed as a haven in Southeast Asia, where the media was relatively free, is now falling behind in world rankings.

Freedom House, an international watchdog organisation, ranked Thailand 8th out of 10 Asean member-countries for press freedom, placing it behind Myanmar, which was once considered a much tougher working environment for journalists.

The scariest part in today's situation under the National Council for Peace and Order is not the fact that soldiers can visit the newsroom, though that is bad enough when it occurs, Ms Pannika said.

"It's much scarier to see journalists having to censor themselves," she argued.

"Journalists are on edge, as everyone is scared of being called in by the junta for an attitude adjustment session if they go too far."

Chutima Sidasathian, a former web-based Phuketwan reporter, said journalists working for local news outlets find their freedoms even more squeezed than their Bangkok counterparts.

Local officials and business people try affect the angle of news stories, she said.

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