July 23, 2021 – the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, Thammasat University organized a seminar on the topic “The Emergency Decree No. 27: When the People’s Fear is Perceived as a Threat by the Government”, where Associate Professor Kalyakorn Worakullattanee, Dean of the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication addressed the opening remarks. The event welcomed communication and law professionals who expressed and discussed their opinions. The speakers of the event were: Assistant Professor Dr. Wilaiwan Jongwilaikasaem (Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, Thammasat University) Associate Professor Ruj Komonbut (Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication, Thammasat University), Mr. Yingcheep Atchanon (iLaw), Lecturer Surasak Boonyanukoolkit (Faculty of Law, Thammasat University), and Mr. Supinya Klangnarong (Cofact Thailand). The project was organized to provide knowledge on media and communication, in relation to the issues of news presentation according to the Emergency Decree no. 27, Article 9. Academics, as people sector, which pointed out that the state used intense drugs to deal with the COVID-19 situation that caused people’s anxiety. Instead, the government should have relied on the existing laws to create comprehension and to provide information to the public while avoiding blocking discussions and comments.
Assoc. Prof. Ruj Komonbut, Lecturer of the Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication suggested that the COVID-19 pandemic caused the government to announce the decree for administrating the emergency. There are 28 regulations of which no. 1 and 27 all contain a written message to forbid the dissemination of information. Therefore, the declaration of the decrees resulted in this seminar. In summary, the main point of the Decree no. 1 is that the authority obtain power to warn and revise the dissemination of fake news that creates misunderstandings during emergency situations, and they can prosecute regarding the Computer Crime Act. If the story is not true and cause fear, the authority can prevent and take legal action. The Decree no. 27 is different from No. 1 in the sense that if a true statement can raise fear, then the action of distributing that statement can be wrong. Two days later following the announcement of the no. 27, on July 10, the Deputy Prime Minister gave an interview that if the news was true, it could be released. Meanwhile, three days later, the Organization of Media Profession issued a statement to review the regulations because of a vague consideration of fear. Subsequently, the Decree no. 28 was issued and declared and later caused the ‘call out’ trend because it states that the political movements of artists and influencers are illegal.
The purpose of this forum was to talk about what the effects that the Decree could have toward the society and communication. Furthermore, Mr. Surasak Boonyanukoolkit, Lecturer of the Faculty of Law focused his attention on the Decree no. 27 article 11 as it is related to the restriction on the freedom of expression and freedom of communication. The declaration of the State of Emergency provided an exceptional power to the Prime Minister in issuing specific rules to deal with problematic situations. The Decree no. 27 is an extensive commandment that may cause a problem in interpretation as the wordings are broad and some terms can be applied to other matters, which is indirectly concerning the COVID-19 situation. For example, the Decree can prohibit comments on government administration. The principle of constituting decrees must be adapted to a particular situation, perhaps, these current decrees are copied from the Emergency Decree which expand phrasing and can be interpreted in many ways. Furthermore, the scope for the distribution channels written in the Decree is not yet identified as it indicates that the dissemination can refer to “any type of media”, which can include social or digital media. The apparent problem is that the government uses the term with messages which create fear without defining whether the messages are a fake statement or a true statement. “Words with a wide-ranging meaning can refer to both false and true information. Therefore, the words using in drafting laws for the emergency situations should not be this expansive. The widening of the legal wording could lead to more distorted use of the law. Such a measure may be applied to create
a biased information or to block the messages that the state does not want the public to know. As a result, the regulations show that the government chose penalty measures to deal with the expression of speech toward the situation.” However, the Constitution reassures a freedom of speech, speaking and writing, whereas the Emergency Decree is constructed to limit rights by claiming the aim of preventing the outbreak. How can the ban on publishing the messages and information help preventing the outbreak? The state is heavily using people’s fear to manage the pandemic. Although the regulations are issued under the Emergency Decree, the state should depend on the measures that can the least disturb people’s right. There are other measures that will not limit the rights and freedom of the people. Presenting the images of dead people on streets could build more fright and raise more awareness in people.
How could the presentation prevent the outbreak? The interpretation of the law and its usage must consider the purpose and intention of the law. In addition, the law must be interpreted in accordance with the principles of democracy and the Constitution. Thus, the boundaries should be narrowed and limited to meet the objectives of the law to cope with the outbreak most effectively. Mr. Yingcheep Atchanon from iLaw said that all 28 decrees, which are a legal system we are facing recently, are difficult to read. To understand, we need to read several decrees together. If you read one copy, you will never understand. To comprehend the regulation no. 27, it requires the reading of other decrees from no. 1 to 26. For the state of emergency, the government could have used the existing law to deal with the situation; however, the state chose to create another tool for the situation. Even without the Decree no. 27, we have other laws that deal with the dissemination of false information: An Act on Computer Crimes. If a false news is presented to frighten people, then the section 14 (2) of the act can be exercised, whereas the Decree no. 27 article 11 is not necessary. The country would not be collapsing. The Decree no. 27 article 11 is a confusing law. We are having this law because we are under the State of Emergency and by claiming that there was an urgent need. But over the past two years, the law should should be reviewed been reviewed or rewritten to be coherent to the current situation. It is not essential to use such a law for an emergency that is more suitable for war than this situation. Once again, we should have been using the existing laws to manage the situation instead. While Ms. Supinya Klangnarong, co-founder of the Cofact Thailand, mentioned that in people’s perspective, we have gone further from the panic. If the government would release any announcement to make people become less panic, it would not be working. Deeply, people might be exhausted from being alert, and they could feel that the situation was too overwhelming. They would rather step back to take care of themselves and they could manage it well. Most of the people had some experience which became their empirical truth. What she wanted to say was that expression was the feeling of the people that they experienced and wanted to express. People might seem ignorant to the current situation, but in reality, it was an after-shock period. The government mismanaged the information and communication. In this kind of situation, people normally allowed the government to exercise the exceptional powers; but it should have been through a method that could directly and immediately reach the people. What has happened was that some serious matters were not clearly announced. The government usually made important announcements on Saturdays, Sundays or in the middle of the night, which people did not want. The result of this ambiguity was the turmoil of information, causing the disturbance. They must fix the problem at its origin, while the expression of fear should be guided by the truth. The key to fortitude was not drafting a law forcing people to stop expressing their opinions; but it should be a way to keep people informed of media news. One more time, it should not be a making of the law to control the spread of news.
If the government recognized the importance of false information or fake news, they should initiate a campaign. Shutting people’s mouths by the law is not a solution to fight the news on social media. A good solution is what some other countries do: if they think there is a problem with social media, they propose the ‘social media distancing’. If we needed facts, we also needed freedom of the press and expression. “The more you block it, the more people want to express it, the more curious people become. The block of freedom of expression can further affect the government credibility. The law should be a tool to protect the victims which the authority must have some patience because they are taking a role to find the solution. It is normal to have people criticize and they should allow further criticizing because it is better to solve the problems. Extreme expression shows that people are under pressure: and blocking their expression will even cause more resistance in the society. The government should establish Open Data, Open Government." On the other hand, Assistant Professor Dr. Wilaiwan Jongwilaikasae, lecturer of Faculty of Journalism and Mass Communication added that in the current situation, the government should explain to the public to understand the situation. During the past 2 weeks, the Prime Minister addressed fewer explanations to the people. And when he made an explanation speech, people found that he did not explain anything. Instead, the government used a ‘comment blockage tactic’: they employed the most severe law which only provides threats to the citizens. She defined this situation as the fear management strategy of the government by regulating media in the digital age. Owing to the issuance of the 28th Decree, although the media did not express any feeling, the editorial team hired a process of censorship toward the content to avoid impact. “The decrees by the government, which frighten both the media and the people reflect that people's voices are still influential and powerful. Three days ago, there was a call out with fake news. As an academic, I found that the government’s action relies on an unsuccessful approach. In the past, when there was a revolution, the media was invited to listen for the way of presenting the news. Perhaps, after the announcement of the Decree no. 28, as there are now some influencers, the influencers were invited.