FOREIGN correspondents in Thailand are concerned over the revised media guidelines announced by the Thai government recently, believing such measures could impede press freedom.
On Thursday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) released new guidelines for issuing media visas for journalists and media correspondents applying to work in Thailand, which would be effective from March 21.
In a statement issued by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand (FCCT), its members found the stricter criteria for approval of media visas imposed by MOFA to be “deeply discouraging”, as it has resulted in many seasoned journalists having their visa applications rejected.
The FCCT acknowledged that it was MOFA’s prerogative to determine who was eligible for a media visa and appreciated that MOFA officials had accepted some of the FCCT board’s suggestions on the proposed guidelines, which included a grace period for media practitioners who were now ineligible to reapply for a media visa under the amended guidelines.
However, it also urged Thai authorities to “interpret the guidelines in a way that enable[d] all bona fide journalists to be properly accredited and report freely and fairly”.
Earlier this month, MOFA spokesman Sek Wannamethee told Bangkok Post that complaints over the misuse of media cards by people who were not affiliated with any news organizations were among the factors that had brought on the need for more stringent guidelines.
“In view of the changing nature of the media over the years, the definition of what constitutes being a foreign journalist needs to be more precise,” said Sek.
He added that the objective of the guidelines were not to restrict, forbid or limit the work of foreign media.
According to the 2015 World Press Freedom Index, Thailand is ranked 18th in the Asia-Pacific region in terms of how much the press is restricted and censored, and is #134 overall out of 180 countries.
The Index notably references the May 2014 military coup, which saw local media and Internet being censored. The army had also taken control of leading TV stations, closed around 20 news outlets, and blocked access to foreign TV stations to prevent “distorted” reports.