CDC drops plan for additional media-censorship powers

CDC drops plan for additional media-censorship powers

Journalists seek cover but continue working during the 2010 street protests and battles. (AP photo)
Journalists seek cover but continue working during the 2010 street protests and battles. (AP photo)

Constitutional drafters have dropped a plan to give the government additional powers to censor the media during political crises following an outcry from the press.

Constitution Drafting Committee spokesman Chartchai Na Chiang Mai said on Wednesday that the panel backed off its intention to add language to new charter allowing authorities to block during "unusual situations", such as during the mass street protests that led to 2014's military coup.

Mr Chartchai said panellists decided that the executive or emergency decrees issued during such times generally have included provisions allowing for government media censorship. The military also has the same power under martial law, he added.

As such, including the censorship language in the new constitution would be redundant, Mr Chartchai said. The CDC, he added, will simply maintain language included in the abolished 2007 charter allowing the state to intervene and censor the press during times of war.

Media backlash

The National Press Council of Thailand (NPCT) on Tuesday had criticised the CDC for its proposal.

Chavarong Limpattamapanee, chairman of the NPCT, said the CDC headed by Meechai Ruchupan had gone too far and its plan would affect freedom of the press.

Mr Chavarong said while the press organisations agreed that content involving press freedom should go by that in the 1997 and 2007 versions of the charter which allow "certain press restrictions", the CDC's latest was too much.

"When there is an unusual situation, the media usually cooperates with the state. And if any media outlets violate the law, the government can take action such as banning them in whole or in part."

"There is no need to add anything or give more power," said Mr Chavarong.

CDC spokesman Udom Rathamarit had said on Tuesday that the charter-writing panel had agreed the government should have such censorship powers following the imposition of an emergency decree or under martial law.

"When the country is facing an abnormal situation, the mass media should be cooperative. Otherwise, it can be difficult to set rules and disorder can break out," Mr Udom said.

"In normal times, we protect [the media's] work," he said. According to Mr Udom, the CDC based its decision on the political demonstrations of 2013 and 2014.

Some CDC members agreed the political environment and tensions resulted partly from the media and some news outlets provoked demonstrators while media organisations failed to intervene, he said.

A big newspaper quit the NPCT when the council warned it about its coverage, Mr Udom pointed out.

"If we look back, we can see we were not in wartime but it was chaos. We need to think based on our own context. The CDC is thinking about society as a whole," he said.

However, Mr Chavarong said the CDC was getting it wrong.

He pointed out that in a democratic society social measures are adopted against media outlets that violate media ethics or codes of conduct while legal action can be taken if laws are violated.

"Giving too much power to a government that invokes an emergency situation decree is risky and threatens media impartiality and independence. The more intervention, the more violent the conflict," he said.

However, Mr Udom admitted that there was potential for abuse of the new censorship powers, saying the panel would review criteria for imposing the emergency situation decree or martial law.

"We need to address concerns that the decree may be invoked to gag the media," Mr Udom said.

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