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Cablegate: Media Reform in Thailand: The Good, the Not-so-Bad, and The

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FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
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INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 4210
RUCPDOC/DEPT OF COMMERCE WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC

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DEPT PLEASE PASS EAP/PD, ECA, EAP/MLS
PASS TO DOC/JEAN KELLY AND USPTO TWANA BROWN

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TAGS: PHUM PGOV KPAO ECPS EINT TH
SUBJECT: Media Reform in Thailand: The Good, the Not-so-Bad, and the
Ugly

REF: BANGKOK 4926

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Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Over the last few months, Thailand's interim government has
introduced three pieces of important legislation governing media in
the country. In August, a new printing bill, nullifying the
antiquated 1941 Printing Act, was passed by the National Legislative
Assembly (NLA) and now awaits endorsement by the King. Thailand's
first piece of cyber crime legislation, the 2007 Computer Crime Act,
was enacted in June. Just weeks later, the cabinet endorsed the
draft Radio and Broadcast Bill that, once passed, will replace
current outdated legislation drafted in 1955. While the Printing
Act and the Radio and Broadcast Bill are considered by most as
positive steps towards media freedom, the Computer Crime Bill has
been the target of harsh criticism and is viewed as a large step
backwards in promoting freedom of expression in Thailand. End
Summary.

The Good: The Printing Bill
---------------------------

2. (SBU) The August 29 passage of the Printing Bill by the National
Legislative Assembly marked an important turning point for the
press, undoing the 1941 Printing Act that required newspaper
publishers to be licensed and gave authorities power to shut down
newspapers. Law enforcement authorities had the power to censor;
newspapers and magazines were shut down under the 1941 Act for real
or perceived violations. Under the new law, newspapers will no
longer need a special license to publish and will only be required
to notify regulatory authorities, like any other business, and
register mastheads. The Printing Bill also abolished three
amendments to the bill and three Revolutionary Announcements enacted
after the September 2006 coup that further inhibited the press. In
short, the police will no longer have the authority to stop the
presses. The reporters we spoke to about the new Printing Bill were
unanimous in agreeing that the bill represents a new era of press
freedom for Thailand.

3. (SBU) Passage of the bill was uncertain and the path to success a
tumultuous one. After the coup of September 2006, the Council for
National Security seemed intent on using the old law to stifle
criticism. Indeed, the National Legislative Assembly seemed intent
on keeping the old law, but established a special committee that
included media representatives to review the Printing Act. By April
2007 the media representatives had quit in frustration with the
committee and Prime Minister Surayud came under heavy pressure to
scrap the 1941 Press Act. (Comment: It appears as if this pressure
successfully swayed the NLA to eventually support the legislation.
End comment.)

4. (SBU) The new bill still makes material deemed offensive to the
monarchy a criminal offense, punishable by fines and imprisonment.
The bill will not become law until it is printed in the Royal
Gazette, which is seen as a formality.

The Not-So-Bad: Draft Radio and Broadcasting Bill
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (SBU) In July, the Thai cabinet endorsed the draft Radio and
Television Broadcasting Bill, which is now awaiting consideration by
the National Legislative Assembly (NLA). The legislation, if
passed, will pave the way for more comprehensive regulation and
control of television and radio operations in Thailand.

6. (SBU) Under the draft bill, licenses for broadcasting frequencies
would fall into three categories - public service, community service
and business-based operations -- each with specific content
requirements. To obtain a license for public service, a broadcaster
must devote 70 percent of its contents to education, arts and
culture, health, sports and national security issues. Non-profit
organizations and local groups can apply for licenses to operate
community radio or television stations as long as 70 percent of
content is directed to the interests of local populations. In the
case of business-oriented licenses, an operator must ensure that
news, documentaries and other substantive issues make up at least 20
percent of its content. These content requirements must be met
throughout the concession term -- seven years for radio and 15 years
for television. Business-oriented broadcasters are the only
operators that can generate income from advertisements, though they
must contribute a portion of advertising fees to a broadcasting fund
that will support public and community services.

7. (SBU) Under the bill, community radio, cable, and satellite

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television stations operating without authorization can apply for
temporary licenses with an interim regulatory body. New operators
seeking first-time licenses must wait until a permanent regulatory
body, as stipulated in the new constitution, is established (Note:
During a October 4 meeting with Mass Communication of Thailand
(MCOT) executives, PAO was advised that it could take a year or more
after this draft law is passed before this body will be formed. End
note.)

8. (SBU) This new law is part of the interim government's efforts to
reform the broadcast industry, governed until now by the outdated
1955 Broadcasting Act. The 1955 act does not provide provisions for
the operation of community radio, cable or satellite television
stations, leaving the more than 3,000 community radio stations and
approximately 400 cable television stations to operate without
authorization.

9. (SBU) For the most part, both media activists and operators view
this bill as a positive step towards more effective and fair
regulation of local television and radio operations. However,
content providers and the satellite television industry have
expressed concern over some aspects of the draft bill, including the
absence of stipulations requiring regulators to suspend or cancel
the licenses of IPR offenders and the limited application of
anti-circumvention provisions. A member of the NLA recently
informed emboffs that the bill was on the "priority" list of drafts
to be considered by the NLA, but it is not clear whether the draft
indeed will pass before the December general elections.

The Ugly: 2007 Computer Act
---------------------------

10. (SBU) In July, the 2007 Computer Act was enacted, giving the
Ministry for Information and Communication Technology (MICT)
authority to request and enforce the suspension of information
disseminated via computer. Under the act, a maximum five year jail
sentence and a 100,000 baht (approximately $3,000) fine can be
imposed for posting false content on the Internet that undermines
public security, causes public panic or hurts others. A maximum
20-year sentence and 300,000 baht (approximately $9,000) fine can be
imposed if an offence results in the death of an individual. The
law obliges Internet service providers to preserve all user records
for 90 days, in the event that officials wish to access them. In
addition, any service provider who intentionally consents to or
supports the publishing of illegal content is also subject to
prosecution under the law. In the worst case, violators could face
a prison sentence for using proxy servers to access websites blocked
by the government.

11. (SBU) Media activists and other observers have strongly
criticized the act, stating that the law is far too ambiguous and
that some penalties are too harsh relative to the offence committed.
They worry authorities have too much power to crack down on content
considered a "threat" to Thailand. A prominent media activist told
AIO during an informal lunch that unlike many cyber crime laws in
other countries, which tend to focus on protection against the
spread of spam, viruses and child pornography via the internet, the
Thai law incorporates concerns for public order, national security,
and morality in its cyber crime legislation. She went on to say
that the broad powers given to authorities would create a "climate
of fear" among those who operate in the cyber environment. In
August, two individuals -- a well-known web administrator and an
internet blogger -- were the first known individuals charged under
the new act for allegedly posting online comments considered
critical of Thailand's revered monarchy (reftel).

Comment
-------

12. (SBU) While on the one hand the Printing Bill represents a step
forward for freedom of expression, the Computer Act is perceived by
many as a step backwards. Although it is too early to tell how this
act will ultimately impact free expression on the internet, it is
safe to say that the law fails to measure up to the Council of
Europe's Convention on Cybercrime, the only binding international
instrument on this issue. The future of the broadcasting bill is
also not entirely certain and we will continue to track its content
in light of IPR and other concerns. In the end, all three of these
new pieces of media legislation present both challenges and
opportunities for freer expression in Thailand and bear continued
close monitoring. End comment.

BOYCE

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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