The government is increasingly facing fake news, like this one, so has decided to issue the regulations. But they are extended too far and deemed to infringe on press freedom. Credit: Anti Fake News Center

Govt must revoke Covid restriction regulations deemed infringing on press freedom: Media Orgs

Leading media organisations including the Thai Journalists Association have called on the government to immediately revoke Regulation No.29 and Article 11 of Regulation No.27 deemed to infringe on press freedom, while throwing support to media groups and outlets, which filed a complaint against the regulations

Six media organisations including the TJA issued a statement over the weekend reiterating their stance on immediate revocation of the two regulations issued by Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha.

While the No.27 regulation contains the clause which is deemed to infringe on press freedom, the No.29 regulation No.29 goes further with the clause that gives authorities power to shut down the internet and take legal action against media outlets acting in violation of the regulation.

The problematic clause in both regulations addresses the prohibition against reporting on or disseminating bits of information deemed to cast fear among the public. This, they said, is too vague and might allow concerned authorities to apply judgement at their discretion, thus being deemed to infringe on press freedom.

The media organisations have also called on the government to adhere to the fresh court injunction against the regulations while throwing support to the media groups and outlets, which brought the case to court.

On Friday, the Civil Court had examined and assessed witnesses and pieces of evidence brought before the Court by Pro-Democracy media groups and online media outlets such as Prachatai, the Reporters, the Momentum, DemAll, and others. The groups filed a petition against Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha to the Court on August 2 seeking and an injunction as well as a revocation of the enforcement of Regulation No.29, signed by PM Prayut.

It then deliberated and ruled that Article 1 of the regulation, which prohibits the dissemination of information that risks frightening people is not limited to those of misrepresentation according to justification and necessity of enacting the regulation, thereby ensuing “the deprivation of right and freedom of the plaintiffs and people as protected by the 2017 Constitution”.

The Court went on, saying the article is not compatible with a part of the regulation, which indicates the necessity of creating the measures to render the exercise of right and freedom of expression in accordance to a legal frame as established by the Constitution.

Moreover, the phrase “information having a risk of frightening people” as indicated in the article “is of an ambiguous character and opens a possibility to a broad interpretation”, thereby rendering the plaintiffs, people, and those working in a media field unconfident about expressing their opinion and communicating in accordance with the freedom protected by Article 34 Paragraph 1, Article 35 Paragraph 1 of the Constitution, the Court said.

The article results in “a superfluous and unnecessary” deprivation of people’s rights and freedom, which makes it in effect incompatible with Article 26 Paragraph 1 of the Constitution, the Court noted.

Also, the article provides no stipulation on the criteria or guideline regarding the performance of official duties lest the treatment ensues unreasonable vexation of people, as designated in the regulation, issued under Section 9 Paragraph 2 of the 2005 Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations.

Considering that Section 9 provides a Prime Minister with no authorization to suspend internet services provision, Article 2 of the regulation, which authorises the suspension of internet services provision against the Internet Protocol address (IP address), of which the user has disseminated the information not compatible with the regulation, is “in contrary” to the law, the Court stated.

The importance of internet access, the Court further noted, is recognized throughout the society, particularly, in the current situation of Covid-19 and the enforcement of lockdown measures.

Furthermore, Article 2 of the regulation is not limited to the suspension of internet services provided in one specific act, yet extending such suspension to a future act. As a result, it hinders the communication and information’s dissemination of those not having malicious intent, thereby rendering it incompatible with Article 36 Paragraph 1 of the Constitution, the Court noted, while adding leaving open the possibility of continuing the enforcement of such regulation runs the risk of irreparable damages.

“Therefore, under Section 254 (2), Section 255 (2)(d) appurtenant to Section 267 Paragraph 1 of the Civil Procedure Code, the Court views as “just and appropriate” to grant a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction having an effect of suspending the enforcement of those two Articles of the regulation (No.29).

“It is in the view of the Court that, considering the existence of several legal instruments establishing the measures concerning illegal dissemination of information and the government’s capability to educate people, develop a public better understanding, and examine false information, the suspension of the enforcement of the regulation does not pose any obstacle to public administration in emergencies and public interest.

“Therefore, the Court orders that the defendant be provisionally enjoined from enforcing the Regulation No.29, issued under Section 9 of the Emergency Decree on Public Administration in Emergency Situations B.E. 2548, pending entry by the Court of a changed order in this action.” the Court decided.

The ruling date on the revocation of the regulation has not yet been set. Article 11 of the No.27 regulation still remains in place and in effect, in the meantime.

Update (August 11): Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday signed a new regulation, Regulation No.31, revoking the No.29 regulation, citing the Court’s injunction and the fact that concerned authorities can still enforce other related laws in absence of the regulation, as cited by the Court. The media organisations, meanwhile, have issued another statement today, insisting on the revocation of Article 11 under the No.27 regulation, citing it contains the same clause as the No.29 regulation, deemed to infringe on press freedom.