Thai Court says controversial Printing Act is ‘constitutional’

alerts-button-1.jpgThailand’s Constitutional Court has ruled that an Article in the 1941 Printing Act is constitutional, rejecting arguments from media groups that the challenged provision undermines free speech and press freedom guarantees that are also enshrined in the national charter.
The court’s decision was taken upon a request for judicial review by Thailand’s Criminal Court, after Manager Media Group—owned by media mogul and anti-Thaksin firebrand Sondhi Limthongkul—challenged the constitutionality of the Printing Act’s Article 48.
Article 48 stipulates that writers and/or publishers of newspapers can be held liable for violating the privacy rights of citizens. As he mounted a campaign to unseat Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra on charges of corruption and conflict of interest, Sondhi and his media group faced a barrage of criminal defamation charges from politicians and public officials allied with Thaksin. Most of those suits cited Article 48, and saw public figures invoking their privacy rights to seek protection from media scrutiny, and at the same time to limit the latitude of coverage enjoyed by the press.
On 7 September 2006, the Constitutional Court, voting 8-to-2, said that while media freedom is guaranteed under Articles 39 and 41 of the constitution, such freedom is already kept in check by Article 34 of the constitution, which also deals with individual privacy rights. Thus, on 8 September, Bangkok’s Engilsh daily, “Bangkok Post”, quoted Paibul Warahapaithoon, the Constitutional Court’s secretary general, as saying that clearly there are sound rationales for laws that limit news reporting to protect individual rights.
On the same day, however, another Thai daily, “Krungthep Thurakij” quoted Dr. Banjerd Singkaneti, public law lecturer of Thammasat University, as saying that the constitutional court’s ruling may have an impact on the use of the Printing Act to further assail media rights. Still, he said the media could still mitigate against such potential abuse at every potential case by invoking their right to cover on matters of public interest, which has also been held valid by Thai jurisprudence.
The Thai media sector has long lobbied for the repeal of the 1941 Printing Act, saying many articles within it could be abused and exploited to the detriment of press freedom. Thai journalists insist, for example, that the law grants the Special Branch Police broad authority to issue warnings against media players, to conduct searches at newspapers, and to close down printing presses.
The Thai Journalists Association called for studies to look for legal remedies to better protect the media’s rights in the face of the Printing Act. One of the TJA’s recommendations is to enact a Press Law that can provide provisions for the protection of the press while at the same time providing mechanisms for individuals to complain and seek redress should they feel or find their individual rights violated by media.


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