NRSA compromises on thorny media bill
The National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) Monday endorsed a controversial media bill after making changes to two controversial issues in an apparent attempt to ease pressure from the press and critics.
Under the revised version of the bill, the contentious plan to license individual journalists was dropped. However, journalists would be required to obtain certificates from their respective media companies.
As for the much-criticised 15-member national media profession council, which would include permanent secretaries from the PM's Office and Culture Ministry, state representatives will serve on it during the five-year transitional period.
The bill was endorsed in a vote of 141 members for, 13 against with 17 abstentions.
The media organisations led by the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) submitted a petition Monday to the NRSA asking it to cancel the debate on the bill, which was drawn up by the NRSA's media reform committee headed by ACM Kanit Suwannate.
Addressing the members, NRSA chairman Thinnaphan Nakhata said there was a long way to go for the bill before its enactment.
Stressing the media's contribution to national development, he said the freedom of the press must be protected and that the NRSA is not seeking to restrict or control the media.
"The press should have its own professional council, like others. And the council will monitor it to make sure its members operate according to professional standards," he said.
ACM Kanit acknowledged the fierce opposition to the bill and came up with a compromise. He said the decision to have journalists licensed should be dropped and replaced with having media companies certify their journalists instead.
However, he stood firm on the proposed establishment of a national media profession council to regulate the industry, and he agreed to eliminate the remaining two state representatives from the council after the five-year transition.
"We backed down earlier by lowering the number of state representatives from four to two and replacing them with members of public independent agencies.
"And this time the state representatives will be taken out after the transitional period," he said.
Pol Gen Pisit Pao-in, deputy chairman of the NRSA's media reform steering committee, said the bill was not intended to restrict the freedom of the press, but was to regulate the ethical conduct of those working in the industry.
Several NRSA members voiced disagreement with the bill and called for a thorough study before it was put to a vote.
NRSA member Kamnoon Sidhisamarn said he totally agreed with media reforms and the need for regulation, but disagreed with the elements in the bill that touch on licensing and state representation on the media council.
Nikorn Chamnong, a NRSA member and key member of the Chartthaipattana Party, said more public input on the bill was needed.
Gen Tawatchai Samutsakhon, former 2nd Army commander, voiced support for the bill, saying the media should be regulated in the same way as other professions.
His comments were echoed by Dr Pornpan Boonyaratphan who insisted journalists should obtain licences and be regulated by a professional council which would no longer require oversight from outsiders once standards are established.
Before the vote was cast, Alongkorn Ponlaboot, deputy chairman of the NRSA, suggested that a coordinating committee be set up to further revise the bill as recommended. The NRSA voted 88:67 not to set up the committee.
Chai Pathakhamin, secretary-general of the Press Council of Thailand, said yesterday the organisation was not consulted by the NRSA's committee.