Media urges PM to scrap muzzling laws

Media urges PM to scrap muzzling laws

Prayut says journos have enough freedom

Members of the Thai Journalists Association got to talk with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on World Press Freedom Day, but without result. (Post Today photo)
Members of the Thai Journalists Association got to talk with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha on World Press Freedom Day, but without result. (Post Today photo)

Media organisations marked Tuesday's World Press Freedom Day by calling on the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) to abolish orders which they say restrict media freedom.

The president of the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) Wanchai Wongmeechai led representatives of the TJA and the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA) to Government House where they planned to submit a statement concerning press freedom to the prime minister.

However, the prime minister's staff did not allow them to, claiming that if media groups were allowed to submit a letter directly to the premier, others will follow.

The staff suggested Mr Wanchai submit it to the government's petition centre instead.

However, the officials allowed Mr Wanchai to meet the prime minister and give him a T-shirt to mark the day.

Gen Prayut greeted the media group by asking, "What are you doing here today?"

Mr Wanchai said in response that media organisations were marking what is supposed to be an important day to raise awareness for press freedom.

Gen Prayut countered, "the freedom that the Thai press has nowadays, isn't it enough?"

One reporter in the group spoke out, saying some laws such as the NCPO's orders No.97 and No.103 are limiting the freedom of the press.

Gen Prayut reacted promptly by saying, "I will revoke the orders you mentioned, but I will issue new laws instead."

Yuwadee Thanyasiri, or "Je Yu", a veteran reporter based at Government House for more than 30 years, added: "The freedom of the press is the freedom of Thai citizens."

Mrs Yuwadee's seemingly innocuous comment appeared to ruffle the feathers of the prime minister who immediately turned round and asked "Who said that?"

Upon realising the comment came from a senior member of the press, Gen Prayut said: "Watch out for yourselves", to which Mrs Yuwadee responded, "No problem sir, I have been careful."

In their joint statement released Tuesday, the media groups urged the NCPO to cancel its orders No.97/2014, No.103/2014 and and Article 5 of No.3/2015.

Scrapping the orders will allow civic groups to freely express their opinions, which will in turn contribute to improving the country's reputation for rights and freedom, they said.

They called on the NCPO to impose regular laws to deal with media instead.

The media organisations also called for a guarantee that will allow them to disseminate correct and balanced information and give members of the public the opportunity to exchange opinions.

The issue of freedom to report has arisen most recently in relation to curbs imposed on the public's ability to discuss the draft charter in the lead-up to the August referendum.

Although the importance of public rights and freedom protection is clearly indicated in Section 4 of the interim charter, the NCPO has exercised its powers in a way that has affected the public's rights by means of controlling the media, the groups added.

The groups listed such methods as summoning members of the media to attend so-called attitude adjustment sessions and calling meetings with media outlets.

The level of media freedom in Thailand has fallen in the past year, the groups said, adding that a clear indicator was the downgrading of Thailand's media freedom from 130th in the Reporters Without Borders' ranking in 2014, to 134th in last year's ranking.

"It is the duty of the press to report news from every side of a story, not only one side. If the government considers some news to be misleading, the government should present the facts as arguments to bolster their case instead of limiting the right to report it at all," said Mr Wanchai after meeting Gen Prayut.

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