Laws admitted as obstruction in reporting on monarchy reform

Academics, lawyers, a former Constitutional Court judge and a former television newsroom editor have discussed the Constitutional Court verdict outlawing the call for monarchy reform. Despite the different stances taken, the lèse majesté law and cultural values regarding the monarchy prove to have a serious effect on media freedom.

A snapshot of the panel, facilitated by Teeranai Charuvastra, the TJA vice president (right).

The discussion was held on 8 December, organized by the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) following the Constitutional Court ruling on 10 November 2021 that claimed that calls for monarchy reform and monarchy-related activities organized by the protesters since 2020 are unconstitutional and after the meeting between the free-to-air television operators and the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) who warned that coverage of monarchy reform must take care to be in line with the Court ruling.

Wasan Soypisudh, a former President of the Constitutional Court, said the media can be considered as an accomplice in crime if they published messages about the monarchy that are outlawed. However, te question of intent would also be taken into account when considering the case.

So he suggested that the media avoid reporting what may be regarded as illegal. The ten demands for monarchy reform can be reported with care. The parts that infringe the monarchy will have to be censored. 

Peerawat Chotthammo, President of the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and former television newsroom editor, said there are many regulations that television stations must observe. Beside the lèse majesté law, there is also an NBTC law that can punish stations for broadcasting content that damages public order and morality.

There is also a business aspect to trying to report a controversial issue like the monarchy reform. Popularity and revenue are serious factors that can also determine how television presents news when new competitors from online platforms are overwhelming. Those are reasons why television newsrooms are sensitive about reporting monarchy reform. 

In the current situation, Peerawat said, news about the monarchy has gone back to the basics of ‘5W1H’, carefully reporting ‘who, what, where, when, why and how’. Footage may be allowed on air, but the sound track and visible messages may not always be put on display. 

Asst Prof Phansasiri Kularb, a journalism academic from Chulalongkorn University, said that the media in a democratic society ideally has a duty to give society well-rounded facts and a middle ground for discussion so that people can have enough information to determine their lives or resolve tensions.

On the issue of monarchy reform, the media must consider what aspect of coverage will benefit the people. In her opinion, what should be reported is its relationship with the public interest or the public’s daily lives. The media also has to fact-check the statements made by protesters as well as the ruling of the Constitutional Court. 

The journalism academic said that what is regrettable is the prosecution of people who spoke about the reform, which creates conditions that hinder the media from doing its duty. Culture also plays a part in media performance. The media should also question how society has become so sensitive and suppressive and design a communication method in order to create an impact on the public in finding a common resolution without deepening the ongoing conflict.

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