Joint statement: The government must abolish an emergency decree provision that infringes on freedom of expression

On July 15, 2021, we expressed our concern over the government’s invocation of Section 9 of the 2005 Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations, and its introduction of a new set of measures that outlaw “distortion of information and news that cause misunderstanding in emergency situations, the presentation and dissemination of news in books, published material and other media that contains messages that incite fear in the public, or intentionally distort information to create misunderstandings in emergency situations that impact state security, peace and public morality.” 

In a joint statement issued by six Thai media professional associations on that day, we called upon the government to reconsider the new measures, or clarify its intention as to how they will be enforced, in order to prevent misuse as instruments to censor media coverage and infringe on the public’s freedom of expression. 

Our demands were ignored by the government. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha also posted a message on his official Facebook page on July 27, 2021, instructing relevant authorities to strictly enforce the new measures against the media, influencers and social media figures, among others. 

The six professional media associations listed below immediately met to discuss the latest development. We reached the following conclusions: 

1. The Prime Minister’s insistence on enforcing the new measures, along with the recent attempts by his government to intimidate and take legal action against members of the public who simply exercise their constitutional rights to criticize the administration during the COVID-19 pandemic, clearly reveal an intent to crack down on the freedom of expression enjoyed by the media and the public. 

2. The government’s assertion that the new measures are necessary to tackle what it terms “fake news” shows its refusal to acknowledge the administration’s failure in its communications with the public. 

Although a small number of media agencies did sometimes present news that was inaccurate, their actions were not the result of any intentional plot to disseminate falsehoods or cause damage to  society, as is often alleged by the government and its information officers. These were simply journalistic errors that can sometimes occur in the media industry, and which can be corrected by presenting accurate information. Members of the press who make such errors already pay a high price in terms of losing credibility. 

3. We call upon all professionals in the media and news agencies to stand in unison and oppose the government’s new measures. We also urge the media establishment to take utmost care to ensure that their news coverage is accurate and compliant with the highest journalistic standards -- in order to deny the government any excuse to interfere with media operations, which will in turn affect the public’s right to information. 

The six professional media associations hereby uphold  the principle that “media freedom is the freedom of the people.” Any attempt to infringe on the freedom of the press is an assault on the public’s freedom of expression. 

In the coming days, we will continue to campaign against the government’s new measures until the authorities realize that their efforts to silence freedom of expression and freedom of the press will only contribute to the government’s downfall. 

July 28, 2021 

The National Press Council of Thailand

The News Broadcasting Council of Thailand 

The Thai Journalists Association

The Thai Broadcast Journalists Association

The Society for Online News Providers

The National Union of Journalists