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PM tries to calm fears on media regulation bill

Posted by pakin On April - 28 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

NRSA panel chief wants online media to be included in licensing system.

PRIME MINISTER Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday attempted to allay fears over the controversial media regulatory bill, denying it was intended to restrict media freedom and calling for mutual trust between the media and the government.

He said it was necessary to have a new law to regulate the mass media, particularly online social media, due to a lot of problems created by “bad people” who spread false information irresponsibly.

“Do not fear restriction of the media. Why do I need to do so? I cannot work without the media. The media help expand my understanding. The media warn me about something bad, and I am ready to look into it,” Prayut said.

He urged the media to accept a regulating committee in the new legislation, but said he did not completely agree with the draft bill proposed by the National Reform Steering Council (NRSA). “I still do not agree with the draft. Before agreeing with it, I have to listen to the people and the media so see what they think,” he said.

Prayut did not elaborate as to whether he was referring to a proposed requirement that all media professionals, including those in the social media, need to have licences.

 

Any media professional working without a licence risks a jail term of up to three years or a maximum fine of Bt60,000, or both, according to the media reform bill.

The prime minister said media groups had admitted they were unable to regulate their members and therefore a regulating body was required.

He maintained that he was not blaming the media but that the regulating body was required to prevent “bad people” from doing whatever they liked. “Other countries have the same thing and they have problems with social media. We are adopting a principle that is acceptable to the international community,” he said.

NRSA vice president Alongkorn Ponlaboot said yesterday that the assembly had no intention of restricting media freedom or controlling the media by proposing the new law.

“We just want to improve the quality of the media profession. We want the media to adhere to a code of ethics and take social responsibility,” he said.

Alongkorn, formerly a politician from the Democrat Party, also said he did not think the NRSA would agree with any provision that went against international standards.

Meechai Ruchupan, chairman of the Constitution Drafting Commission, said yesterday that the 2017 Constitution does not require media professionals to have licences.

Despite strong opposition, the contentious media regulatory bill has been scheduled for deliberation by the NRSA at its meeting next Monday.

In the latest revision, alternative news outlets broadcast via online channel are also included in the draft law. They are expected to be subject to the same treatment, such as have a licence, like traditional and mainstream media.

 

ACM Kanit Suwannet, chairman of the NRSA’s media reform committee, told The Nation that the assembly viewed online media as no different from traditional media such as newspapers or television, apart from their broadcasting channels, so they should be included in the new regulatory system too. The draft bill had given a rough definition of such new media as instant creators who earned income from providing online content, he said.

“Anyone who feeds content to the public online and gains profit, for instance, from advertisements would be under this law, too,” Kanit said. “These include those [Facebook] pages with a lot followers that have advertisements running on them.”

The law had to keep pace with the advances in technology, he said.

Alternative news outlets in the online world have gained significant momentum in recent years. They are considered by many people as competitors or even killers of the traditional mass media, as audiences are increasingly rely on the Internet for news rather than listening to the radio, watching television or reading papers.

These outlets include portal websites and online new agencies such as Kapook.com, Sanook.com, Thematter.co, and the Momentum.co. They are expected to be impacted by the media regulatory bill too.

Teepagorn Wuttipitayamongkol, a co-founder of alternative online news agency The Matter, wrote on his Facebook that the bill was an obvious attempt to control the media.

“Imagine having to ask for permission every time [we] make a joke or report news that might oppose the powers that be. [Imagine] a world where a handful of people try to impose their morality on diverse people,” the veteran columnist wrote. “We can see how tragic this media registration is.”

Online media people and bloggers yesterday had mixed reactions to the proposed licensing of media professionals.

Nunchavit Chaiyapaksopon, IT blogger at Yokekungworld.com, said the licensing requirement could make online media and bloggers more responsible. However, the requirements should be set out clearly and the licensing process should be transparent enough for outside checking.

Nuttaputch Wongreanthong, digital marketing blogger at Nuttaputch.com, saw potential in the regulation attempt. By doing so, he suggested, online thought leaders should be encouraged to take part in the bill-drafting process to provide timely and true-to-context insights.

Poramate Minsiri, managing director and CEO at Kapook.com, however was concerned that the government’s role in licensing could curb media freedom. He believed that self-regulation and society could be a more efficient in the modern world.

“When authority sets up such a process, we will see fewer online reporters, given that they will be required to register beforehand,” Poramate said. “The media might be more limited to report on issues, especially on rights infringements.”

Khajorn Chiaranaipanich, an IT blogger at Khajochi.com, said it would be hard to specify who are media workers and who are not in the online arena.

Apisilp Trunganont, president of Thai Webmaster Association and co-founder of Pantip.com, saw ambiguity in the NRSA’s explanation of the bill. “What kind of media will need to be licensed, who exactly will issue the licences, and how they will be used upon a worker or legal person?” he asked. “We need to know answers to these questions,” he said.

IT TV host Pongsuk Hiranprueck said he was willing to be licensed. “But I’m sure that more than 1 million Thais will be ready to break the law,” he said, adding that he did not think Facebook would allow an authentication system to screen out unlicensed media.

Govt lauded for its efforts to fight graft

Posted by pakin On April - 27 - 2017 ADD COMMENTS

Experts seek more action to deal with cronyism.

THE PRAYUT government has made some progress in suppressing corruption but it needs to show that it would not spare any wrongdoers including its cronies, anti-corruption experts said yesterday.

They were speaking at a seminar, “Monitoring the Prayut Government’s Anti-Corruption Policies”, which was organised by Thailand Development and Research Institute (TDRI) and the Anti-Corruption Organisation of Thailand (ACT).

Thippatrai Saelawong, a principal researcher from the TDRI, said the government has been doing its best to tackle corruption by reforming and enacting some new laws. At least five laws to help suppress corruption have been enacted during its term of nearly three years.

The research team looked into the progress of the government’s anti-corruption effort by examining degrees of action, from light action to the most concrete action of law enactment.

The team found that the government had performed quite well, with a score of about 67 per cent, in preventing officials intervening in state business via subjective judgements, one of the two prime sources of corruption. The other is state procurements.

At least two necessary laws have been put in place, particularly the state service facilitation law, under which state permission has become more transparent through concrete procedures, Thippatrai said.

The government has scored around 60 per cent regarding progress in trying to steer clear of corruption in state budget spending. At least two necessary laws, including the state procurements law, have been put in place to regulate and make spending of the state budget more transparent.

However, the promotion of public participation to ensure more transparency of state acts has been less successful as most laws have not yet been enacted, including the state information provision law, said Thippatrai.

“We have seen some progress in the government’s anti-corruption policies by taking a look at its law enactment on what is necessary. Still, we cannot tell yet whether these would lead to the success of corruption suppression as we need to monitor the enforcement of these new laws more as well as the outcome of the action,” said Thippatrai.

He added that there was still concern that an open atmosphere for discussions and participation was still relatively slim and several issues still remain closed to the public, including security issues.

Mana Nimitmongkol, ACT’s secretary-general, said the government has not yet been able to reach enough people to discuss solutions to the problem of corruption.

Some groups have joined the government’s efforts but they are being outpaced by the scale of the problem. This government had enacted more anti-corruption laws than past governments but cronyism has overridden its efforts.

Efforts in structural changes or long-term anti-corruption policies are desperately needed, he said.

 

Referendum is over but dozens fighting charges

Posted by pakin On October - 10 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

AT LEAST 44 people charged under the Referendum Act are struggling to fight the cases, according to the Thai Lawyers for Human Rights (TLHR).

Defendant lawyers have also found that given what they describe as the ambiguity of the Act, it is even harder to prove that their clients’ actions were in line with democratic principles.

“Section 61 of the Act allows the authorities to broadly interpret the provision and they can consider anyone as having committed wrongdoing against the law,” lawyer Pawinee Chumsri of TLHR said.

Pro-democracy observers and legal experts said the Referendum Act created a climate of fear after it was promulgated in mid-April.

Legal experts from non-profit group Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw) and former senators championing human rights believed the second paragraph of Section 61 of the Act was “ambiguous”, and it could lead to confusion and a climate of fear, under which people are afraid to express their views towards the draft. They petitioned the Ombudsman, which submitted their claim to the Constitutional Court. It asked the court to rule on whether the law violated the 2014 Interim Charter, which guarantees people’s right to expression.

Under the section, dissemination of “false”, “vulgar”, “provoking”, and “intimidating” messages relating to the referendum with the “intention” to incite unrest or influence voters to cast ballots either way was deemed a violation of the Act, which carries a penalty of up to 10 years in jail, equivalent to a murder offence.

TLHR is working for 22 of the 44 defendants, while the other cases are being looked after by other groups of lawyers. The 22 are involved in five separate cases. These include the high-profile cases of the seven anti-coup student activists who distributed anti-draft pamphlets in Samut Prakan province, and the case of aPrachatai journalist arrested while working in Ratchaburi province, Pawinee said.

All of the defendants are on bail. Of the five cases, two have been forwarded to the Court of Justice by public prosecutors, the legal team revealed. “Most of them were arrested following the dissemination of pamphlets with information against the draft or for campaigning against the referendum,” Pawinee said.

The team of lawyers has learned that not all their clients’ charges relate to Section 61 of the Act. They have found that in some cases the defendants were arrested under Section 61 alone, while others were charged under Section 61 along with other offences relating to national security related laws such as the National Council for Peace and Order’s ban on political gatherings, the Computer Crime Act, and sedition in the Criminal Code.

Those charged under Section 61 will be tried in a civilian court, while those charged under “national security” laws face the further complication of being tried by a military tribunal, Pawinee explained.

Pawinee said the vagueness of the law made it difficult to fight the cases, and it was tougher for cases to be tried in a military court, where the trial process has been criticised for not being in line with international standards.

The lawyer said she and her lawyer colleagues would adhere to democratic principles to defend the cases because they believed the accused did not commit any offences. “They did not perpetrate [an offence], we know. They just expressed what they think about the charter draft.”

She said experts would testify that the defendants’ actions were legal and Section 61 was vague and did not qualify as a law due to its ambiguity.

Moreover, she added, the provision breached Section 7 of the Referendum Act which ensured people’s freedom of expression related to the referendum.

The lawyer team plans to ask the Attorney-General to withdraw the cases, arguing that the cases contributed nothing in terms of public benefit because the August 7 referendum is over and the Referendum Act only applied to that event.

Of all the cases handled by TLHR, Pawinee said, the accused would deny all the allegations and they would refuse to enter into a justice reconciliation process, an alternative to the punitive measure of a jail sentence.

Some observers view the legal fight as a gesture of disapproval over the referendum law. They observed that the law seemed to be set out to quell anti-charter campaigns, given that no pro-charter campaigners were charged.

Fate of Pheu Thai now hangs in the balance

Posted by pakin On September - 13 - 2016 ADD COMMENTS

They may doubt the survey methods, but politicians should not ignore recent opinion polls showing public support in favour of Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha retaining his role after the return of civilian rule.

Following the overwhelming endorsement of the military-backed constitution in last month’s referendum, the surveys present further evidence of widespread public support for the coup leader.

Politicians can no longer afford to wait and see if the Constitution Drafting Commission drafts an organic law to dissolve political parties. If they sit still now, it could be too late to win back people’s trust and stem the flow of popularity towards the junta chief.

Instead they urgently need to restructure their parties and reform themselves to meet public expectations. The message from the referendum and opinion polls should be especially alarming for the major parties. Pheu Thaiand the Democrats desperately need to revamp themselves.

As both parties appear to be up against just one strong competitor – General Prayut – their first question is who to choose as leader for the general election next year.

Democrat incumbent Abhisit Vejjajiva, who opposed the draft charter, says he is willing to continue in the role if his members back him. He could be re-elected for a fourth successive term at the end of next year, when his current tenure ends.

The Democrat Party’s election of executives would take place close to the date of the next election as scheduled by the junta’s road map.

Pheu Thai, meanwhile, might be compared to a headless chicken. Fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra is looking for a suitable person to replace acting leader Viroj Pao-in.

Pheu Thai’s status looks more shaky that that of the Democrats because its real bosses, Thaksin and his sister Yingluck, are seen as the main opponents by the junta.

In contrast, many Democrat politicians have maintained a close relationship with former party secretary-general Suthep Thaugsuban, who is currently chairman of the People’s Democratic Reform Foundation and also has close ties with the junta.

It’s unlikely that the junta will allow a party dominated by the Shinawatras to rise from the grave, after administrations led by two members of the family were overthrown by successive military coups.

Generally, politicians prefer to be members of a coalition party in government rather than be sitting on the opposition benches. Pheu Thai politicians are no exception. But the chances of them forming the next government may be zero.

Hence, political observers foresee disarray for Pheu Thai. Some members may seek to defect and join other parties to ensure a better political future. A former Pheu Thai government minister, who asked not to be named, recently told reporters that he was looking for a new party.

If the worst comes to the worst, the party could be torn apart, with only the most loyal Shinawatra followers opting to stay.

Thaksin, who has lived in exile overseas since 2008, now has a choice to make: compromise, or continue fighting the military-backed regime.

A leader willing to compromise and forge a relationship with the military regime could rescue his party, but that would also risk triggering a mass defection by Pheu Thai members opposed to the dictatorship, which could sink the party.

Former PM Thaksin has been feeling the heat from legal action taken against those close to him during his post-coup government’s tenure. His sister Yingluck is also fighting criminal charges related to her government’s rice-pledging scheme, with jail time beckoning if she is found guilty.

The organic law on political parties might not end up resetting the political landscape, but other developments could set Thaksin back to square one.

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