The CCSA holds press briefings twice a week now.

EDITORIAL: The government needs to overcome its own fear in times of this health crisis

As the country has been hit by Covid-19 hard during the third and fourth waves and the situation remains unabated, the government needs to overcome its own fear of truth and allow the public to get more well-round information so that they can prepare themselves to cope with the situation at best. To begin with, it must revoke the two recent regulations, No. 27 and 29, immediately

In times of a crisis, truth is needed so that people can thoroughly learn about the situation and deal with it responsively as it is. Unfortunately, the messengers of the truth are now being challenged by the government’s attempt to regulate distorted facts and fake news regarding the ongoing epidemic crisis brought by Covid-19 and its potent variants.

First and foremost, the Center for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA)’s communication has reduced the amount of time for daily press briefings on Covid-19 situations and necessary analyses, from five days to two days a week. The information, it said, would be more available on the center’s social media platforms.

Worse, the government has recently issued Regulation No. 27 and 29 with clauses prohibiting reporting on or disseminating of distorted facts or fake news. The No.29 regulation, in particular, instructs internet regulators to take legal action against the disseminators.

While the reduced press briefings have cut short two-way communication between the press and the center, the two regulations are proved to be even more problematic.

What is problematic about these two regulations is they also include a clause that addresses the prohibition against “reporting on or disseminating of any bits of information, which could cast fear among the public”. This, the leading media organisations note, is too vague and might allow concerned authorities to apply judgement at their discretion, thus being deemed to infringe on press freedom.

This in fact goes against the current Constitution’s principle, which states clearly on the protection of press freedom. Under Section 35, the Constitution notes; “Media professionals shall have liberty in presenting news or expressing opinions following professional ethics. The closure of a newspaper or other mass media in deprivation of the liberty under paragraph one shall not be permitted…”

And such liberty is not deprived by any legal conditions as imposed in other sections. The censorship by concerned officials of any news or statements made by media professionals before the publication in a newspaper or any media, as the Section further notes, shall not be permitted. The only exception is for the action during the time when the country is in a state of war.

The media organisations, the TJA included, quickly responded to the regulations by issuing a statement calling on the government to revoke them shortly after the issuance of the No.29 regulation on Thursday. Their petition was also submitted to Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha for consideration, and if the demand is not met, they have agreed to level up measures to ensure that the media members are free to work in times of this crisis.

PM Prayut seems to realise their discomfort. He said of the issue when giving an interview with the press shortly after the regulation issuance that “he doesn’t have any problem with the press”.

The Prime Minister, however, has not taken any further action since.

As the country has been hit by Covid-19 hard during the third and fourth waves, and the situation remains unabated, given inclining daily infection cases and deaths, the public should be well informed about the situation so that they can prepare themselves to cope with the situation at best, thus collectively lessening the impacts on the whole society.

Considering the scale of the problem, the government must realise that it alone cannot fight the virus. It needs the public support in order to be able to successfully suppress and stem this virus as well as safeguarding the public. It’s thus necessary for the government to facilitate the provision of information and news the public need, rather than acting on the contrary.

By limiting bits of information and posing legal threats against the media, who are the public’s messengers, this is tantamount to the act of crippling the whole society’s ability to survive from this virus.

Truth is what is most feared and at the same time most powerful, depending on how one views it. The government’s attempt to control the truth has not reflected anything but its own fear of truth.

As truth is needed, the government needs to overcome its own fear and allow the public to get more well-round information. To begin with, it must revoke the two regulations immediately.