Leading media watchdogs say no to council

Leading media watchdogs say no to council

Groups fear meddling if single body is set up

This green armband has been adopted as the symbol of a working journalist in Thailand. Press groups unanimously oppose an attempt to appoint a media council by the military-appointed National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA). (File photo)
This green armband has been adopted as the symbol of a working journalist in Thailand. Press groups unanimously oppose an attempt to appoint a media council by the military-appointed National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA). (File photo)

The country's leading media groups oppose a draft law that proposes setting up a central media council, arguing it would invite undue media interference and could result in biased news coverage.

The groups met Monday to discuss a push by the military regime's National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) to have its sponsored bill on the regulation of media practitioners enacted into law.

In a joint statement, the six organisations -- the National Press Council of Thailand (NPCT), the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand (NBCT), the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA), the Online News Providers Association (ONPA), and the Thailand Cable TV Association (TCTA) -- dismissed the proposal.

Once the draft is finished, it will be forwarded to the cabinet for approval and then to the military-appointed National Assembly where members will put it to the vote.

TBJA president Thepchai Yong said the media organisations Monday agreed in principle to establish an "efficient" way of regulating the media and ensuring ethics are observed.

However, the meeting opposed any attempt to regulate ethics through law enforcement under the proposal for a so-called Media Professional Council of Thailand.

The TJA earlier voiced its concern, saying the bill paves the way for any media organisation to be part of the proposed council.

The group was worried politicians and private individuals could register a media company to obtain membership of the council.

Mr Thepchai said there was no guarantee the council would be free of interference, and could impede people's access to information.

  1. The six media organisations decided to send an open letter expressing their concerns to the NRSA on Thursday.

At the meeting, the organisations also agreed to set up a working group to write a separate bill on media regulations.

The organisations' draft will be presented to the NLA along with the NRSA's draft, according to Mr Thepchai.

TJA president Wanchai Wongmeechai said the media organisations do not agree with the idea of a professional council being entrusted with absolute power to regulate the media.

The six organisations are in favour of individual media firms regulating themselves and being monitored by existing media organisations.

Mr Wanchai said they feared a professional council might have the authority to impose punitive action against media outlets.

Such power would lead to interference, he said.

The TJA president said, however, that in the absence of having an umbrella body such as a council, there must be a system in place to deal with media outlets that quit their respective association, leaving them immune to scrutiny.

One solution might lie in dusting off the media protection bill which was dropped at the end of the Abhisit Vejjajiva government, according to Mr Wanchai.

Under the bill, a committee of media practitioners would be formed to receive complaints from members of the media who feel they have been victimised or mistreated for reporting certain stories.

The panel would look to provide them with protection from harassment or undue pressure.

That bill had been proposed by the Abhisit administration and vetted by the Council of State.

However, the bill was dropped when the Abhisit government lost the election.

Mr Wanchai said if the media regulator organisations felt it necessary to present a bill alongside the NRSA's version, they would outline measures and look to improve self-regulation among media firms.

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