Media bill fails to win PM's support
Waiting for more public input before cabinet meets
published : 28 Apr 2017 at 06:00
newspaper section: News
Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha says he personally disagrees with a controversial bill to regulate the media industry proposed by the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) media reform panel but is waiting for the public to have its say.
He said while he is keeping his options open as to whether to support the measure when it goes to cabinet, problems stemming from distorted information on social media still need to be addressed.
"I'll have to hear what the public and the media have to say about it first," the prime minister said Thursday day about the bill.
The bill's chief sponsor said Thursday the media must be licensed, tamed and intimidated until they are tamed like the Singapore press.
"Licensing under this bill will keep the press in order like in Singapore," said ACM Kanit Suwannate, chairman of the National Reform Steering Assembly's media reform sub-committee.
He was unimpressed with the prime minister's stance and will continue to press next week for passage of his bill.
The prime minister insisted he has not blamed mainstream media professionals in general, but the problems are caused by "bad people" exploiting social media.
"It's about bad people causing trouble in management. Every country has similar problems, especially from social media," Gen Prayut said.
People using social media write and spread information irresponsibly, and special attention is required to deal with the issue, Gen Prayut said.
"But what I still see as a problem is that we gave media organisations the responsibility to regulate themselves. But you admitted yourselves that you could not handle it," Gen Prayut added.
He added the bill is not intended to gag the media, but media organisations must work together to find the best solution so they can truly become the people's media.
Media groups have slammed the NRSA-sponsored "bill on rights protection, ethical promotion and standards of media professionals", saying it is not based on principles of a free press, but designed to allow state interference and control of the media.
A crucial point of concern involves the proposed "national media profession council" which would have senior government officials among its members and is empowered to penalise media outlets that violate codes of conduct.
The council comprises 13 members, four of whom are permanent secretaries, of the finance, digital economy and society, culture, and the Prime Minister's Office.
The proposed participation of the permanent secretaries has sparked criticism they will serve as a conduit for political meddling in the media.
However, the NRSA media reform panel later made revisions to the proposed council by reducing the number of state representatives from four to two. This led the NRSA whips to agree to put the bill on the agenda of the NRSA meeting for a debate on Monday.
According to Section 3 of the bill, the definition of the mass media covers newspapers, radio and television, digital media, and media in any format resulting from the advancement of information technologies which can communicate messages to the public.
Under the section, media professionals are defined as those who communicate all kinds of information and news which serves the public purpose to the general public no matter format they are in, and they do this regularly to receive regular payment from owners of the media or receive income from the job either directly or indirectly.
Deputy Prime Minister Wissanu Krea-ngam said Thursday that the NRSA had gathered feedback on the media bill, and when the bill goes before the National Legislative Assembly (NLA), scheduled for next month, it could decide to listen to more opinions.
Kamnoon Sidhisamarn, spokesman of the NRSA whips, said the NRSA will meet on Monday and Tuesday to consider reports from the NRSA media reform panel, including the controversial medial bill.
He said the NRSA whips had agreed the media bill will be put on the agenda to allow members to discuss it further. It remains to be seen as to whether the meeting will send the bill back to the media reform panel for revisions, Mr Kamnoon said.
ACM Kanit, chairman of the NRSA's media reform steering panel, expressed confidence the media bill will be approved at the meeting on Monday. However, the bill will still have to go through the government and the NLA and this means that it can still be changed, ACM Kanit said.
He insisted the bill does not contradict the new constitution because the process of drawing up the bill was overseen by lawmakers.
Constitution Drafting Committee chairman Meechai Ruchupan said the NRSA media reform panel must explain why all media professionals are required to apply for an operating licence under the media bill.