Yesterday, the government of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha tightened its grip on freedom of expression with a new order punishing what it deems to be “fake news.”
It allows the Office of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) to shut down any media outlets that violate it.
It also compels internet service providers to verify offenders’ IP addresses and suspend their internet service if found guilty.
In other words, the government has claimed the authority to shut off your internet access if it doesn’t like what you’ve written or shared.
The order comes amid intensifying criticism of the government for its pandemic response.
What started as condemnation of health officials’ preference for Sinovac shots has spiraled into outright scorn. As case numbers and deaths have increased, so have reports of mismanagement, bungled vaccine purchase orders, and rumors of corruption.
With images of people dying on the streets, vaccine centers being overrun by anxious citizens, and cabinet members flocking to Phuket for gleeful photo ops going viral online, many have called for Prayuth and Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul to resign.
The censure has reached such a deafening pitch that many celebrities—some former supporters of the regime, others historically apolitical—have jumped into the fray.
“Online celebrities like us are often met with criticism, fake news, bullying, hate speech, or sexual harassment. People can say or criticize whatever they want even if their words don’t hold any truth,” wrote Thai singer Thanwa Boonsoongnern, better known as the Toys
, on Facebook.
“But when the public voices concerns about what is actually happening, they are met with charges that deny fundamental rights... People will remember this forever.”
In an unusually forceful statement, six Thai media associations said Wednesday that the government had ignored its call to reconsider the measure or ensure it would not be misused.
The National Press Council of Thailand, the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand, the Thai Journalists Association, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the Society for Online News Providers, and the National Union of Journalists co-signed a statement condemning what they viewed as an assault on the public right to information and free speech in general.
The groups called on media workers to “stand in unison” and oppose the new measures.
Meanwhile, the Daily News
reports that Atchariya Reuangrattanapong, head of the Help Crime Victims Club, has filed these very same “fake news” charges against Anutin.
Atchariya says that Anutin knowingly declared in public statements that there would not be delays in the Thai vaccine rollout despite having evidence to the contrary.