Thai media freedom in spotlight after court reverses protest-related closure ruling
In a rare move, the Criminal Court admitted that its earlier order to close down all online platforms of Voice TV was “incorrect”.
The court on Wednesday overturned its ruling issued a day earlier, blaming a lack of clarity in the petition filed by the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society (DES).
In its petition filed on Monday, the DES had asked the court to order the closure of four online media outlets and an anti-government group’s Facebook page on grounds that they were violating the Computer Crime Act and the emergency decree.
The petition cited 12 website addresses (URLs) saying their content threatened national security and caused public fear.
On Tuesday, the court approved the ministry’s request for all of Voice TV’s online platforms to be shut down.
However, the court called a fresh hearing on Wednesday morning after Voice TV argued that the shutdown order breached protection of media freedom enshrined in the Constitution.
The DES told the court on Wednesday that, at the Royal Thai Police’s suggestion, the ministry found content on the 12 websites that violated the law.
Unable to get service providers to block access to specific content, the ministry opted to request a court ruling to close all broadcast channels run by the online media outlets.
The court ruled that under the law, only illegal content should be blocked, not entire platforms.
The ruling said the ministry’s petition failed to clearly specify that the request would result in the closure of the platforms, and not just the 12 URLs cited.
“The court did not receive the correct information and mistakenly believed the closure only affected specific content presented to court. Therefore, the previous court order was incorrect and shall be repealed,” the ruling read.
The court also rejected the ministry’s request to block three other online news sites – The Standard, The Reporter and Prachatai – as well as DES’s order to shut down a Facebook page operated by the anti-government Free Youth group.
The about-turn came after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha instructed agencies to reconsider their order to clamp down on media outlets after the Criminal Court ordered the shutdown of all online platforms belonging to Voice TV.
Voice TV’s lawyer Winyat Chartmontri said the court overturned its previous ruling to close Voice TV because it was inaccurate.
News about the closure order against Voice TV was revealed by DES’ Deputy Permanent Secretary Putchapong Nodthaisong on Tuesday.
Winyat warned that the DES should be more careful about spreading news that might intimidate and/or create fear among the public.
The lawyer added that three websites and Free Youth’s Facebook page can publish reports, but the DES could still seek closure if they disseminate information deemed harmful to national security.
Law lecturer Jade Donavanik echoed that point, saying Wednesday’s ruling did not set a precedent that media cannot be shut down. If they are deemed to be violating laws, they can still face court-ordered closure, he added.
Sakulsri Srisaracam, a media lecturer at Panyapiwat Institute of Management’s Faculty of Communication Arts, applauded the court’s decision not to gag media as proposed by authorities, saying media should be self-regulated.
However, while the state should not violate press rights and freedom, media outlets should use this case to review whether their news coverage is balanced, she added.
“It’s hard to stop [media] taking a stance, but they should take care to choose appropriate language when reporting to reduce conflict,” she said.
By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk