Questioning Media Reform
Over the past few weeks, to much of my dismay, the National Reform Steering Assembly (NRSA) has been making progress in pushing for a draft media bill. First, they proposed an idea to levy penalties on unlicensed reporters with up to B60,000 fines and three years in prison, with the companies who hired them also facing similar consequences. Semi-fortunately, the harsh punishments were later dropped, but people who work in media still need to obtain certificates from their employers.
Don’t sigh in relief just yet as there are still more concerns and questions regarding this controversial draft bill that I would like to share with you (because I might not be able to after it is passed).
If enacted, a National Media Profession Council will be set up to exercise various roles. This council would include two state officials from the PM’s Office and the Culture Ministry too. This obviously begs the question whether there will be a possibility of the government interfering in the media’s affairs.
Secondly, their definition of the media profession is wayyy too broad. People coming under this bill would not only include reporters in the conventional sense but also anyone in the media profession who receives direct or indirect income from their roles. According to our daddy publication Bangkok Post, there are the conventional ones like TV, newspapers, magazines but it also covers cartoons, online and digital media, companies hired to collect info, PR firms, websites with news and popular webpages. It has been confirmed that admins of popular Facebook pages will be included too.
I wonder who these people will turn to to get a certificate since many of them are their own bosses. What about reporters who work as freelancers or independently? Will restaurants with Facebook pages have to get one too since they receive indirect income from posting saliva-inducing pictures and videos? The same can be said for hotels too.
Given the vast area this bill seeks to cast its net cover, does this mean any individual with a huge following will potentially be counted as media? How many followers do you have to have to be considered media? Does this mean travel, beauty and food bloggers now have to obtain certificates before posting anything? And more importantly, where will they get their certificates from? Will those who want to work in the media but independently have to sit a test to get a certificate or something?
Also, I can’t find anywhere, in various reports about the media bill, what will happen to these online outlets if they are unable to obtain such certificates. If there’s no penalty for not getting the certificate, then why do we need one in the first place? While the bill may be able to keep in check people who work for established organisations, how will it be applied to those working independently?
Most i mportantly, there are other measures already in place to curtail unethical or unruly forms of media. Have they never heard of libel?
I might be exaggerating here. It could be as harmless as creating another layer of bureaucracy for anyone who wants to work in the media. But it potentially can restrict media freedom and, more importantly, freedom for people to express themselves online and gain access to sources of information too.
There are still steps before the bill will be put into effect. It may get tweaked (or hopefully scrapped) later. Let’s pray that the authorities will heed the criticisms and objections of all media groups and that they won’t cast our voice aside again.
Like when they did with the passing of the new Computer Crime Act and the submarine buying plan.
S***, there may be no hope.