Thai news organizations urge government to scrap media control bill

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Thirty media bodies in Thailand marked World Press Freedom day on Wednesday by calling on the military government to scrap legislation that seeks to tighten control of news reporting in the Southeast Asian country.

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The call came days after a junta-appointed reform panel approved a bill to regulate the media that has drawn opposition from rights groups who say it is designed to boost state interference and curb independent reporting.

If adopted, the bill could establish a regulatory panel of 15 people, including two state officials and seven media representatives, to oversee all media platforms in Thailand, whether print, broadcast or online.

“The bill is essentially designed to facilitate political interference in the media and restrict press freedom,” the Thai media organizations said in a joint statement.

The military government on Wednesday called off an event hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT) focusing on the as yet unsolved disappearance of a revolution plaque commemorating the end of absolute monarchy in 1932 - a subject on which the junta has largely evaded questions.

In a statement, the FCCT said, “(The club) stands by its colleagues in Thailand’s domestic media as they struggle to maintain professional standards and editorial independence in particularly challenging times.”

Thailand’s military government, which took power in a bloodless 2014 coup, has attracted international criticism for curbing free speech and threatening press freedom.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said the government had no intention to silence media with the bill, but regulations were needed to push up the quality of the media.

The media is “an important part of the government’s work”, Prayuth told reporters at an event to mark World Press Freedom Day. “So I want the press to be balanced while working with the government for the people.”

The government will now review the draft bill, before it goes to the National Legislative Assembly, a parliamentary body appointed by the military, for approval and passage into law, he added.

Thailand fell six places this year to rank 142 out of 180 countries on the World Press Freedom Index of the Paris-based group, Reporters Without Borders.

Reporting by Patpicha Tanakasempipat; Additional reporting by Aukkarapon Niyomyat and Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Clarence Fernandez