February 3, 2017
Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha
Royal Thai Government
Via Facsimile: +662-280-1560
Dear Prime Minister Prayuth,
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent organization dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, is concerned about draft legislation that would impose new government controls on private media and journalists in Thailand. We encourage you to scrap the bill and redirect government reform efforts toward measures that uphold and protect media freedom and independence.
The National Reform Steering Assembly, whose members were appointed by the military, has drafted a "bill on rights, protection, ethical promotion, and standards of media professionals" as part of your administration's wider reform agenda. The bill would create a new, 13-member "national media profession council" which would include four ministerial secretaries empowered to impose as-yet-undefined penalties for breaches of a code of conduct to be written by the government. The bill, now under review by an NRSA media-reform panel, also requires all journalists to be licensed by the government.
The Thai Journalists Association, Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the National Press Council of Thailand, the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand, the Online New Providers Association, and the Thailand Cable TV Association have all expressed concerns that the bill's measures would invite state interference in the media and cause journalists to censor themselves for fear of reprisal, including the threat of having their licenses revoked. We at CPJ share those concerns.
We further ask you to repeal military orders No. 97/2557 and No. 103/2557, which ban news reporting that could "create confusion, instigate unrest, or deepen divisions among people," or be considered "malicious," or "misleading" about the ruling National Council for Peace and Order.
We encourage you to reverse executive order No. 41/2559, passed in July 2016, which empowered the state-run National Telecommunications and Broadcasting Commission to shutter media outlets for reasons of national security, without the right of appeal, and to block the broadcast of any news or information it deems "detrimental to the political system, or [that] may destabilize national stability or damage the moral values of the people." Those powers have since been used to pressure news stations to censor the news and to suspend broadcasters, CPJ research shows.
We also urge you to ask the military-appointed legislature to repeal amendments it passed in December 2016 to the 2007 Computer Crime Act giving authorities sweeping powers to censor the internet based on vague and broad criteria. The changes created a new, five-member committee tasked with monitoring and censoring websites, including social media websites, for content that could undermine public order, national security, or public morals--without clearly defining those terms. Prior to those amendments, online censorship required a court order, according to news reports.
These combined measures have eroded press freedom under your military government's rule. We urge you to lift these restrictions on the media as Thailand prepares for the general elections your government has said will take place either late this year or early next year. The return to democracy you have said you seek cannot take place when the state maintains controls and imposes restrictions on the media.
We look forward to your reply.