Thai media restrictions raise freedom of expression concerns

BANGKOK — Thailand carried out new rules on Friday that appeared to broaden the federal government’s capability to limit media experiences and social media posts concerning the coronavirus pandemic, elevating rapid concerns that authorities will search to stifle criticism.

While Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has lengthy sought to crack down on what he calls pretend information and has a authorities division dedicated to it, the brand new rules, introduced late Thursday, embody the power to prosecute folks for distributing “news that may cause public fear.”

It additionally provides Thai regulators the power to pressure web service suppliers to show over the IP handle of the particular person or entity distributing such information, and to “suspend the internet service to that IP address immediately.”

In a joint assertion despatched by six Thai journalist associations to Prayuth and revealed by a number of Thai media shops, the teams urged him to cancel the restrictions, saying they had been overly broad and an assault on freedom of expression.

“The clause ‘news that may cause public fear’ allows authorities to proceed with legal action against the media and the public without clear criteria,” they wrote, threatening to take authorized motion if mandatory.

“Even if the public or media share factual information, state agencies may use this clause as grounds to file a complaint or threaten them.”

The new measures come as Thailand is struggling to deal with a brand new wave of the coronavirus pandemic fueled by the delta variant, with rising numbers of instances and deaths. On Friday one other 17,345 instances and 117 deaths had been reported.

In saying the restrictions, the prime minister mentioned they had been essential to fight the unfold of inaccurate rumors that might impede authorities efforts to vaccinate the inhabitants and implement measures to gradual the pandemic.

“We have daily briefings to give the right information to the public,” Prayuth mentioned. “But some try to distort the information and cause confusion.”

The announcement instantly raised fears that the measures might be utilized by authorities to stifle reputable criticism and will even have a chilling impact by making it much less probably that folks would publicly query the federal government’s actions.

“Even if Thai people share legitimate information, even second hand, the government could still determine that the information, while factual, could cause a panic,” Mark Cogan, a professor at Japan’s Kansai Gaidai University, wrote Friday in an opinion piece within the Thai Enquirer on-line newspaper. “The government has almost accomplished what it has long set out to achieve. It’s a giant step closer to being sole arbiter of what is true and what is fake.”

Government spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri downplayed the concerns, saying that the order wouldn’t be “enforced in such a way to limit the media or people’s freedom of speech.”

“The government is rather trying to manage fake news or any criticism based on false information to prevent misunderstanding and hatred in the public,” he mentioned.

Asked whether or not factual experiences which have the potential to create concern might be affected, he mentioned that “if the news is reported appropriately, there should not be a problem.”

Thai media waiting interview Bangkok Governor Aswin Kwanmuang at the Wat Srisudaram in Bangkok, Thailand.
Thailand carried out new rules Friday that appeared to broaden the federal government’s capability to limit media experiences and social media posts concerning the coronavirus pandemic.

In a dialogue on Facebook, distinguished Thai journalist Suthichai Yoon instructed Prayuth was reacting to rising dissatisfaction along with his authorities’s response to the coronavirus disaster and was in search of a scapegoat.

“The government is stumbling, and feels that the reports presenting the facts to the public from the media, the mainstream media, are questioning whether the government can handle the COVID crisis, and whether the government should be changed or the prime minister replaced,” he mentioned.

“The media is the easy scapegoat.”

Asked concerning the new measures at a information convention Friday, the highest U.S. diplomat in Thailand, U.S. Embassy Charge d’Affaires Michael Heath, didn’t remark particularly, however emphasised that “the United States always supports freedom of expression.”

“That expression sometimes will include criticism of the government,” he mentioned. “As you’ve seen in my own country, we tolerate a wide range of criticism of our government — some of it’s justified and some of it’s not — but we will always support the right for people to express their opinions.”

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