THAILAND: Press, a Watchdog of the People?

ELIZABETH NAAI WRITES – Thai politicians are considering an amendment to the Computer Crimes Act that would essentially isolate the country in cyberspace. Already in the tight grasp of bill’s current form and lèse majesté, the proposed amendment would erode what little rights the media has in the nation.

Thailand ranks 135 out of 179 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, a measurement of government attitudes and intentions for long-term media freedom. This poor ranking is exemplified by the Court of Appeals recently upholding of Chiranuch Premchaiporn’s ruling. Premchaiporn, Director of the Prachatai news blog, was found guilty of threatening the nation’s security by allegedly maligning the royal family and violating the Computer Crimes Act.

Ten questionable comments were posted on the blog, with nine being caught within ten days and the final remaining published for twenty. Those twenty days were sufficient to sentence Premchaiporn to eight months in prison and a 20,000 THB fine (635.62 USD). The Court concluded that the blog director failed her duty as a Thai citizen, condemning her lack of action and vigilance. It finalized the ruling with an elitist solution: Prachatai could either hire more volunteers or purchase software to exhaust all avenues and prevent further abuses.

The Court of Appeals effectively asserted that the press’ priority should be to act as society’s watchdog, putting the government on the backburner. While volunteers monitor Prachatai’s forums and readers can flag potentially illegal comments, the Court deemed these efforts were insufficient. Since the proposed amendment eliminates the need for a warrant from an ICT Ministry judge to block a website, it stands to reason that news sources will prioritize site surveillance over investigating stories. Under the proposed regulations, the government would have been within its power to block Prachatai over this case, which is important to note considering Loyola Marymount University’s Asia Media utilizes Prachatai for this article. The quality of sources and news will be undermined if the amendment passes.

Thailand must decide to fully connect to a highly globalized world, or ossify in isolation.

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