THAILAND: Media groups say No to military-backed constitution

(Hong Kong, August 6, 2007) Twelve community radio and people’s media groups in Thailand have rejected the military-backed draft constitution as undemocratic and have called for it to be rejected.

In a statement distributed in English on Sunday, the groups, including the Northern People Media Network, Campaign for Popular Media Reform, and Thai Volunteer Service urged people to vote No in the August 19 referendum.

The groups said that the appearance of reforms in the draft was undermined by the fact that it had been written under a “bureaucratic system in which the people’s rights and freedom are limited and controlled”.

The groups raised three key concerns with the draft: that the drafting process was undemocratic, that it deprives people of communication rights and that it does not encourage genuine media reform.

They called for the renewal of the 1997 Constitution, which could later be amended by a newly elected government through proper public debate.

In the meantime, they said, the interim parliament should “cease debating and annul the eight bills [being considered or already passed] that deprive the people of their communication rights and freedom and leading to the monopoly of media management by state organizations without public participation according to the principles of democratic regimes”. 

The statement also strongly urged that the government cease with plans for a new national security law that “promotes the Army above the constitution and renders Thai society subject to military authoritarianism”.

Basil Fernando, executive director of the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC), backed the call of the media groups.

“Since September 20, the day after last year’s coup, we have stated unequivocally that the only sensible way out was, and remains, the immediate restoration of the previous constitution with amendments as necessary to allow for prompt elections and a return of the military to its barracks,” Fernando said.

“However, as the junta never intended to go back to the barracks and plans to re-cement its role at the centre of political life of Thailand, a role that it lost in the 1990s, it has gone ahead with this constitution-drafting charade and phoney referendum,” he said.

The director of the Hong-Kong based regional rights group has consistently expressed his opposition to the latest military takeover in Thailand, predicting that it would push back the country’s social and democratic development by decades, a view shared by more and more persons.

“It is patently obvious that this draft charter is deeply regressive, and community radio broadcasters and others concerned about free expression through the media in Thailand have good reason to be concerned,” Fernando added.

“The blanket propaganda in the electronic media–and most of the print media–that has come in the lead up to the vote later this month speaks for itself,” he concluded.

The interim government has spent vast sums of money to promote the draft while warning persons who campaign against it that they could face criminal legal action. There have also been reports of premises being raided where materials have been held urging a No vote, or just informing citizens that it is not illegal to vote No.

A simple majority is all that is required to bring the draft into law. If it does not pass, the military has reserved the right to pick any of the previous constitutions of Thailand and amend it prior to the scheduled vote for a new government.

Previously the junta leader had indicated that the 1997 Constitution would be adopted in its place, but in recent times has sown doubt by suggesting that it is too early to reach conclusions about which charter might be used instead.

Most observers expect that the draft will be passed for these reasons; questions remain largely concerning the number of persons who will be interested to vote, rather than whether or not the majority will be obtained.

The AHRC has advised the European Union to reconsider a proposal to send observers to the general election, which is expected to be held before the end of this year:

It has also described one of the laws to which the media groups have voiced opposition as being “unintelligible”:


The upcoming 19 August 2007 is the date on which the Thai people have to cast their vote in the referendum for the Draft Constitution B.E. 2550 drafted by the Government and the Council for Democratic Reform (CDR).

The Northern People Media Network, the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, the Thai Volunteer Service (TVS) and popular media organizations as per the list attached, have their opinions about the drafting process and the content of the Draft Constitution B.E. 2550 and the media reform process conducted by this Government as follows: 

1. The constitutional drafting process is undemocratic since it has been carried out under authoritarianism resulting in a tendency in which the constitution’s overall content gives too much power to the state bureaucracy. Moreover, the three powers, namely legislative, executive and judicial, are dominant and centralized, with the judicial power as totally dominant.

Although the Constitution B.E. 2550 has been amended in some issues for improvement over the Constitution B.E. 2540, especially in the issue of community rights, such as the establishment of the Farmer’s Council and the Free Trade Agreement, this is under a bureaucratic system in which the people’s rights and freedom are limited and controlled. 

2. The Constitution B.E. 2550 does not encourage media reform, does not invite genuine public participation, and deprives the people of their communication rights and freedom. For instance, Article 47 stipulates that the National Broadcasting and Television Commission (NBT) and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) are to merge into one organization to supervise radio and television broadcasting and telecommunications. This merger will lead to a monopolistic supervision of frequencies for national radio and television broadcasting and telecommunications. 

3. The present Government does not encourage genuine media reform as can be seen from the hasty and brief drafting and amendment process of the 8 Bills relating to the people’s communication rights and freedom. Namely 1) The Computer Crime Act B.E. 2550, 2) The Thai Public Broadcasting Organization Bill, B.E…, 3) The Film and Video Bill, B.E…, 4) The Broadcasting and Television Operation Bill, B.E…, 5) The Printing Bill, B.E…, 6) The Dangerous Behavior Instigation Suppression Bill, B.E…, 7) The Body controlling Allocation of Frequencies and Supervision of Radio and Television Broadcasting and Telecommunications Bill (Revision), B.E…, and 8) The Film Promotion Fund Bill, B.E…. 
The contents of the abovementioned laws legislate for the deprivation of the people’s communication rights and freedom in many respects, such as control of the media and people’s free expression, and through several other laws that are being drafted or promulgated. This can be seen from the Broadcasting and Television Operation Bill, B.E… which authorizes that an independent organization be established to suspend immediately on-air programmes by verbal instruction and maintain power over the media system by maintaining ownership of the media in government agencies. This organization is ready to expand their communication powers as the state mouthpiece through the structure of public service media within the Public Relations Department, as a government agency, and by holding ownership of both radio and television and allowing Local Administrative Organizations, as state organizations, to operate public service radio and television broadcasts. 

4. The State is pushing the Internal Security Bill, B.E…., which gives absolute power to the Army Commander in Chief as the Director of the Internal Security Operations Command with power overlapping that of the State and even extending outside the constitution. This is considered as an obvious expression of the intention to establish military authoritarianism. 

As a people’s organization that has been following media reform from the beginning and emphasizing the people’s communication rights and freedom, the Northern People Media Network and the organizations listed below maintain their standpoint with the following requests: 

1. To reject the Draft Constitution B.E. 2550 since it is promulgated by an undemocratic process. The content does not lead to media reform in which the people can truly participate in media management, instead, it deprives the people of their communication rights and freedom and access to information. 

2. To bring back the Constitution B.E. 2540 with a general election held within 60 days. The elected government must amend the Constitution B.E. 2540 to become more advanced and democratic with public participation in all processes. 

3. To request the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to cease debating and annul the 8 bills that deprive the people of their communication rights and freedom and leading to the monopoly of media management by state organizations without public participation according to the principles of democratic regimes. 

4. To demand that the Government annul and cease proposing the Internal Security Bill for consideration by the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) since this bill promotes the Army above the constitution and renders Thai society subject to military authoritarianism which does not favour media reform and the development of democracy. 

31 July 2007

Northern People Media Network 
Horizontal Communication Project
Prachadhrama News Network 
Social Space and Alternative Media Project
Community Voice Network
Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR) 
Thai Volunteer Service (TVS) 
Lanna Community Radio Network
Pi Sor Heritage Club
Chiang Mai-Lamphun Land Reform Network
Community Radio Network of 17 Northern Provinces 
Chiang Mai Urban Network

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PL-031-2007
Countries : Thailand,