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Govt plan to influence media coverage slammed

A move by the Public Relations Department (PRD) to have TV stations give more coverage to “underrated” Cabinet members has been viewed by media professionals as an attempt to curb press freedom and an interference with media’s decision-making.
PRD caretaker director-general Lt-Gen Sansern Kaewkamnerd on Wednesday asked editors and reporters from broadcasting outlets to “cooperate” with the agency to give more media attention to “underrated” ministers during the upcoming mobile Cabinet meeting in Nakhon Ratchasima next week.

Each TV outlet is to accompany a minister, except the PRD-affiliated National Broadcasting Services of Thailand (NBT), which will report on three ministers.

Although in principle the media were given the option to choose which of the 17 ministers they intended to cover, Sansern told the journalists to make decision immediately, according to a source attending the meeting.

Sansern also said that in addition to their desired broadcasting, they should also submit their recordings for further airtime on NBT. “The PRD has enough resources but this [method] should help create a variety of reporting on the government,” he said.

The participating media outlets are Nation TV, Channel 3, Channel 5, Channel 7, MCOT, Thai PBS, Mono 29, Channel 8, TNN, NEW 18, True4U, One Channel, GMM 25, Thairath TV, NBT and NBT World.

Sansern, who is also the government spokesperson, said that the plan is to give more spotlight to ministers other than Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha, who often draws most media attention.

This “working integration” between the government and private outlets should help boost public understanding on the government’s performance, the spokesperson said.

“They can even use their own microphones in their reports to be sent to the NBT,” he added. “We won’t dictate how they report. It’s all voluntary.”

The plan, however, has been slammed by media professionals and academics who say it is not the government’s duty to get involved in media decisions on reporting.

Thepchai Yong, president of the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, said what Sansern did was tantamount to interference in the media’s work. “It is not a wise move on the part of the government, as this could be seen as an attempt to dictate to the media,” Thepchai said.

He insisted that the media has a professional responsibility to report truthfully and hold those in power and interest groups accountable, not to serve as a public relations tool for the government.

Weerasak Pongaksorn, managing editor of Nation TV, stressed that the media uses its own discretion on reporting. “We’re free to consider what and what not to report for social benefits,” Weerasak said.

Mongkol Bangprapa, secretary-general of the Thai Journalists Association, said he was concerned that Sansern’s guidelines could violate Article 184 of the Constitution, which states that the Upper and Lower houses shall not interfere or obstruct exercising of the media’s rights.

“Whether the media will be interested in reporting the matter depends on what content it holds and how it will attract public attention,” Mongkol said.

“The best way can be for the government to facilitate our reporting procedures without imposing new demands or agendas on the media,” he added.

Communications academic Mana Treelayapewat said that while the government should know its boundaries, media workers should also adhere to press freedom and refuse to bow to unfair conditions.

“The cooperation should not be made because of mere consideration or some mutual benefits,” Mana said. “The freedom to report should be at the forefront.”

The Nation

 

 

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