New media bill threatens “unlicensed” journalists with imprisonment

Despite opposition from media groups, the junta is proposing a law to punish unlicensed journalists with two years in prison.  

On 10 April 2017, Maj Gen Pisit Pao-In, chairman of the media subcommittee of the junta’s National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA), announced that under the new Media Bill, media workers who do not possess official licenses could face two years’ imprisonment, or a fine of 60,000 baht, or both.  

The current version of the bill proposes a National Professional Media Council (NPMC) to regulate and issue licenses to media organisations. The NPMC will consist of 13 members, including two members of the government. Pisit said it is crucial for media professionals to be licenced.

The NPMC will also monitor the adherence of all media to vaguely defined ‘media ethics’, to ensure they do not present news content in violation of ‘public morals’.

Pisit said that media organisations will be given a two-year transition period to adapt to the new law after it is enacted, adding that the NRSA will discuss the bill again on 11 April.

In January, 30 media organisations issued a joint statement against the controversial Media Bill. The organisations include the Thai Journalists Association, the National Press Council, the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand and the Online News Providers Association.

“The bill is not based on the principle of protecting media freedom, but on principles of controlling the media and allowing state authorities to intervene in the work of the media,” the joint statement concluded.

According to iLaw, a human rights advocacy group, the licensing system set up by the bill gives the state many opportunities to intervene in the work of the media.

Journalists interview the junta head at Government House (Photo from Thairath)