Six Thai media organisations on Friday threatened to step up legal and social pressure on the government if it refuses to lift what they allege are restrictions on media freedom.
Representatives of the organisations handed an open letter to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha at Government House. Government spokesman Anucha Buraphachaisri accepted the letter on the prime minister’s behalf.
They comprise the National Press Council of Thailand, the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand, the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the Society for Online News Providers and the National Union of Journalists.
The move came after Gen Chan-o-cha on Thursday issued an announcement banning the distribution of “fake news” or information causing public fear across all media platforms, in what he says is an effort to stem undermining of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Announcement No.29, signed by the prime minister, was published in the Royal Gazette and issued in compliance with Section 9 of the emergency decree.
“Presenting or disseminating news via newspapers or other media with messages that may cause panic among the public or has the intention to distort information that causes misunderstandings in emergency situations that affect the security of the state, peace and order, or decent public morals is prohibited,” the groups quoted from the announcement.
In the letter, the media groups said this restriction in the latest announcement is the same as in the previous announcement of No.27 issued on 10th July under the emergency decree.
The groups argue that the restrictions can be exploited to suppress free speech, which is supposed to be guaranteed by the constitution.
The restriction is without definition and people who present the truth may also be prosecuted if officials decide they have caused the public fear, the groups said.
The groups also slammed the government for ignoring its calls two weeks ago to review the previous order.
The latest announcement only expands the government’s power to restrict media and public free speech, the groups said in the letter. They demanded the government lift the restriction in the two announcements.
“But if the prime minister still ignores our calls, all six media organisations will step up legal and social measures to pressure the government to revoke the restriction,” the groups said.
Speaking in an interview during a TV show, Digital Economy and Society Minister Chaiwut Thanakamanusorn said that the measure targets fake news on online platforms.
Some news reports may be true, but they did not give complete information which causes misunderstandings and causes public fear, he said.
He added that it takes several days to gather evidence and ask the court to order websites or online media platforms spreading illegal information to be closed. Therefore, the government needs the authority to act fast to stop the causing widespread damage, Mr Thanakamanusorn said.