| 23 April 2024, Tuesday |

Thailand bans “false messages” amid criticism of handling of coronavirus

Thailand prohibited the broadcast of “false communications” that threaten security on Friday, prompting claims from media groups that the country is seeking to silence critics of its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha stated this week that the proliferation of fake news had become a big issue, generating societal uncertainty and jeopardizing the government’s ability to combat the pandemic.

The propagation of false messages and distorted news that cause panic, misunderstanding, or confusion “affecting state security, violating the rights of others, and order or good morality of the people,” according to an emergency decree that went into effect on Friday.

The decree gives the state regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), the authority to order service providers to block internet access to specific IP addresses if it believes they are disseminating false information, as well as to notify the police so that legal action can be taken.

The decree comes after the government has faced public criticism over its handling of the pandemic.

For most of last year Thailand managed to keep the virus at bay but a recent surge of infections, driven by the Delta variant of the virus, has been the deadliest yet.

A sluggish vaccine roll-out has led to huge crowds queuing up day after day in some places for COVID tests and inoculations.

The government already has sweeping powers to enforce measures to tackle the coronavirus and rules for control of the internet. Authorities have been taking legal action against some people, including some celebrities and social media influencers, who have criticised the pandemic response.

These include 19-year-old rapper, Danupa “Milli” Khanatheerakul, who was fined 2,000 baht ($60) on a charge of “public insult” last week after accusing the government on social media of mishandling the COVID-19 crisis.

Six media associations said in a joint statement the government’s legal actions showed “an intent to crack down on the freedom of expression enjoyed by the media and the public”.

The associations are planning deliver a letter protesting against the government’s new order on Friday.

The government has said that legal action against “false messages” was not aimed at silencing the media.

  • Reuters