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Media groups ask PM to suspend controversial media freedom draft bill

Media representatives today asked Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-ocha to suspend the controversial media rights and freedom bill as they are concerned about increase government interference and control of their rights and freedom in news reporting.

The group, said to represent 30 media organisations in the country, was led by Thai Journalists Association president Pramed Lekpetch to call on the prime minister and give him a T-shirt marking the World Press Freedom 2017 Day today.

The move today came after the National Reform Steering Assembly passed the the draft bill yesterday. It will be forwarded to the Cabinet for further consideration.

The endorsed draft bill has the controversial licensing requirement and its penalties removed following high concern from the media. But the proposed media professional council featuring two ministerial permanent secretaries remained in the draft.

In respond to media representatives, Gen Prayut asked them not to worry as there are still several steps before the bill becomes law.

He said what his government intended was to reform the country for better and therefore needed cooperation from the media to help reporting anything that is beneficial to the country.

He said the media should act as speaker for the government on any good deeds, but for bad deeds, it was based on voluntary basis and the government would not force them.

He said his government was open for check and balance by the media but it should not jump to conclusions fast on whether it was right or wrong.

He said his government did not overshadow everything but the media itself also need to be capable to self regulate.

In the letter handed to Gen Prayut today, the so-called media professional council was raised as a concern as this will allow the state to take part in the media industry despite the press having the role of monitoring authorities' use of power.

Moreover, the bill draft defines media workers too broadly to the extent that it will cover not only professional workers but also general media users. This would result in the groups being regulated by mechanisms proposed in the draft, they said.

They said that they support media self-regulation where laws may be issued to recognise the status of the media, but the laws must not aim to punish the media and be pushed without receiving holistic opinions from related party.

Source: Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS)