In the latest in its crackdown on freedom of speech online, Thailand’s upcoming Media Freedom law proposes to impose a licensing regime for reporters working for print, broadcast and online news organizations. Under the law, reporters (and their editors) who write and disseminate news stories without a license could go to jail.
Police Major-General Pisit Pao-in, chairman of the National Reform Council’s media reform committee, told reporters that the first draft of the Media Freedom, Ethics and Standards Act has been completed and is ready to be presented to the National Reform Council.
Under the act, unlicensed reporters and any editor who hires them faces up to two years in jail and a $1,740 (60,000 baht) fine.
Pisit said that his intention was not to jail journalists but to find a way to make them register with authorities, hence the law. He brushed aside criticism from reporters that all of the 30 media organisations he has talked to oppose the law, saying that even masseurs need to have a license in Thailand, and the damage media can do to the country is much greater than any massage.
Pisit also made it clear that the law will apply to online media as well as traditional print and broadcast journalists, telling reporters that anyone with the intent to publish news on a regular basis – and doing it for payment, either directly or indirectly – will be considered “media” under the law. He specifically named two online news portals, Sanook.com and Kapook.com as online media outfits that would have to have their writers licensed. Sanook was recently acquired by China’s Tencent.
Pisit saddedaid that the law would not only apply to online media websites, but also news outlets operating on LINE instant messenger.
The draft will have to now make its way through the National Reform Council which has on occasion opposed some of the more draconian laws put in front of it, most notably the first draft of the current constitution. It would then make its way to the National Legislative Assembly, which typically approves just about any law put in front of it. Under the new constitution, new laws will also have to go through public hearings.
Sanook, Kapook and Tencent did not reply to inquiries at the time of going to press.