The stance of the Media Reform Working Group on the Rights and Liberties Protection and Media Profession Standard Bill under the National Reform Council
The Working Group for Media Reform, which comprises four organizations including the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association , the National Press Council of Thailand and the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand called for the NRC to review the Rights and Liberties Protection, Morality Promotion and Media Profession Standard Bill, B.E...which was approved on July 20 by the NRC, and opened the floor for NRC members who disagreed with the legislation to propose an amendment before the bill will be submitted to the Cabinet in seven days.
The working group agrees that minority comments from some NRC members were reasonable in many accounts. For example, the proposed set up of the National Media Profession Council, which will be subsidised by the Government through five percent revenue or no less than 50 million baht from the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, will put the council under the control of the government, thereby compromising its independence.
There are many deficiencies found in this bill, such as the government authority to issue journalist certificates for those who work in the media. This will enable the government to exercise its power to control these professionals from the beginning. Such authority will also give power to the media controlling body, without a transparent mechanism on the procedures and review process needed for the Morality Committee.
In addition, some sections are deemed to contradict with the general legal framework. For example, a requirement for the media owners to take full responsibility of any actions taken by a media member. The working group found the requirement too strict and in past practices were dismissed by the Constitutional Court as an illegitimate requirement.
The working group also agrees that this legislation was not designed for media reform. The media oversight body was structured similar to a government agency, with central and regional functions. There is a lack of transparent procedures to handle problems. It relies too much on state budget and power that it loses its own freedom to perform its work. There is also a lack of a check-and-balance mechanism and measures to protect the media from threats.
Overall, the working group viewed this law would set back media oversight work by more than two decades. Such legislation will enable the government to take full control of media operations and will make the media become a powerful tool for the government, in which case it could cause adverse consequences to the country if the media is unable to reveal facts about a corrupt government.
The working group agrees that media reform is a sensitive work, and it must be proceeded with caution with consideration of opinions from all sides.
The NRC should not rush to proceed with its work before its term ends as it could cause serious problems in the future. There should be enough time given to consider different opinions thoroughly. When faced with time constraints, main principles should be discussed first leaving the details to be presented later as there are also many big issues that need longer debates during the charter drafting process.
The working group agrees that the media reform should be undertaken periodically in order to keep up with the changing situation, realism, history and social norms, and in accordance with the principles of the 1997 and 2007 Constitutions.
The working group supports the media reform effort based on the aforementioned principles and also supports the establishment of a professional council with mechanisms that would strengthen accountability of the media, and yet independent from outside interference.
The draft legislation, as it is written, is not intended to reform the media but rather to control it entirely.
The Working Group for the Media Reform, therefore, requests the NRC to urgently reconsider the legislation as the working group will be pleased to prepare its draft comments and recommendations for the commission as needed.
Thai Journalists Association
Thai Broadcast Journalists Association
National Press Council of Thailand
News Broadcasting Council of Thailand