Restrictions on press freedom to stay: Prawit

Call for clauses in previous charters to be included in new constitution

Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, who also serves as Defence Minister, yesterday ruled out the annulment of Orders No 97 and 103 that restrict media freedom, reasoning that these regulations will be relaxed when officials see fit.Media groups have been campaigning for the removal of the two orders in response to the authorities’ move against Thai PBS television station, which they described as a severe threat to media freedom.

Thai PBS on Friday announced that it was replacing Nattaya Wawweerakup, host of the “People’s Voices that Need to be Heard before the Reform” programme. This move came after the TV channel was pressured by a group of military officers who claimed to be working at the behest of their “bosses” at the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).

Prawit said the government did not want to be told what to do, as a committee in charge of overseeing the media was monitoring the situation and would act accordingly. He added that the prime minister also knew when and what measures should be used in terms of media freedom.

The minister also rejected calls from political parties to lift martial law or at least ease regulations that ban political gatherings of five or more people so they can call party meetings in order to be able to offer ideas to the National Reform Council (NRC).

Prawit pointed out that the NCPO had given everybody a chance to take part in the reform process by calling on them to join the NRC, but nobody paid any attention, he said.

Asked if the NCPO might allow political parties to hold meetings, Prawit said if party leaders had the potential to contribute ideas, then it would not be necessary for them to call a meeting of 200 to 300 party members.

Meanwhile, Thepchai Yong, also chief of the media sector’s working group for national reform, has called on Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to publicly explain his standpoints on media freedom to his subordinates.

He added that media rights should not be restricted and said he hoped there would be no repeat of what happened with Thai PBS.

“We don’t know if the military officials’ claim that they were acting on an order from their superiors was true,” he said. “We would like the PM to communicate with the public to signal to his subordinates that media rights and freedom should not be blocked.”

At a meeting yesterday, the media group for Thailand’s reform also decided to insist that measures protecting freedom of expression and press freedom are guaranteed in the new charter.

Thepchai said the group wanted content in relation to press freedom and freedom of expression in the new constitution to be the same as that stipulated in the 1997 and 2007 charters.

Source: The Nation
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