Thailand: Court order to suspend online broadcaster revoked

An attempt by Thailand’s Digital Economy Ministry and the Royal Thai Police to retract the license of online broadcaster Voice TV has been rejected by the Thai Criminal Court on October 21. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and its affiliate the National Union of Journalists Thailand (NUJT ) condemn the Thai authorities’ attempt to censor Thailand’s media and welcome the response by the courts to defend media freedom.

Voice TV. Credit: VOICE TV CO., LTD

On October 20, Thailand’s Ministry of Digital Economy and Society announced it had obtained a court order to suspend all broadcasts and publications from online liberal media outlet Voice TV. It claimed the organisation had breached the now-withdrawn Emergency Decree and Computer Crime Act by uploading and disseminating “false information”.

Four outlets, including Voice TV, Prachatai, The Reporters and The Standard, were investigated. Human rights groups have said the forced closure of Voice TV was a misuse of the emergency degree and was part of a larger effort to “bully and control the media into becoming a government mouthpiece”.

Voice TV editor-in-chief, Rittikorn Mahakhachabhorn, said it had operated in accordance with journalistic principles and planned to keep broadcasting until a formal order arrived. The Minister of Digital Economy and Society, Buddhipongse Punnakanta, has said broadcasts of the protests were not in violation of the emergency decree, but republishing ‘illegal’ comments from protests leaders would result in disciplinary action.

Following the government move to censure media outlets, the Thai Criminal Court turned down the court order on October 21, stating the request to block the broadcasting of media channels would breach Article 35 of the Thai Constitution that guarantees press freedom. The decision came hours after a government document, ordering internet providers to block access to Telegram, a heavily encrypted cloud-based messaging service used by pro-democracy protestors, was leaked.

On October 22, Thailand’s government rescinded the emergency decree, stating that the situation in the country had eased to a degree where government officials and state agencies could enforce regular laws. The October 14 decree was issued in response to ongoing student-led protests against the nation’s monarchy and government. Under the decree, gatherings of groups larger than five were prohibited and broadcasting or publishing of any news of information with the potential to provoke public fear was restricted.

The NUJT said: "We are opposed to any forms of media freedom suppression by any side and urge the government not to abuse the law by silencing the media."

The IFJ said: “The IFJ welcomes the removal of both the court order and emergency decree in Thailand in and calls for further commitments by the Thai authorities to protect and respect the rights of journalists and media organisations in Thailand as enshrined in the country’s constitution.”

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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