Concerns raised over the prospect of increased government censorship

A recent governmental decree banning the distribution of “fake news” has left local media associations and a legal watchdog concerned that the effort will limit public internet access.

Effective as of 30 July, the order prohibits the reporting or distribution of information which may cause public fear or which intentionally distorts information creating misunderstanding during the emergency to the point where it affects national security, or peace and order, or the good morals of the people, whether through printed publications or any other form of media. 

If the information is published online, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) is to order the internet service provider to find out which IP address the information came from and to suspend internet services to that IP address. The NBTC will also pass the issue to the National Police Headquarters.

Govt issues new ‘fake news’ decree

In an interview with Inside Thailand, Minister of Digital Economy and Society (DES) Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn said that enforcement will be carried out by DES, NBTC and the police. Investigators will consider the intent of those distributing the information as well as the likely impact of its publication.

He added that under the new decree, misleading the public with unbalanced reporting that stresses only negative aspects of an issue is a punishable offence.

Concerned over negative impacts

Thai legal watchdog iLaw noted some of the practical problems that are likely to arise from using IP addresses to deny internet access. An article on the organisation’s Facebook page noted that users share routers, and that denying access to one was likely to have consequences for a number of others. It also pointed out that IP addresses change over time, increasing the likelihood of error. 

In addition, it argued that access denial would have serious consequences for people’s livelihoods, as the web is now needed for everything from reading news, conducting bank transactions and ordering food to accessing government relief money and registering for vaccinations

Following the publication of the decree, National Press Council Chairperson Chavarong Limpattamapanee, Thai Broadcast Journalists Association Acting Secretary-General Suphan Rakchua, and Thai Journalists Association Secretary-General Jeerapong Prasertpolgrang met with a spokesperson from the Prime Minister’s Office to submit an open letter from six local media groups.

The letter demands the Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha revoke this and an earlier order infringing on media freedom and public speech rights as both utilise ambiguous enforcement criteria to grant state authorities sweeping censorship powers. 

In lieu of a response, the media groups also stated that their intent to use additional legal and social measures to pressure the government into dropping both acts.

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