“Anybody who presents a narrative that challenges that [official information] could be accused of [spreading] fake news,” Jonathan Head, vice president of the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, said during an online forum on Monday (May 4).
“Under emergency laws, [the authorities] are allowed to prosecute people for creating a public disturbance or damaging public confidence in the government,” Head, who is also BBC’s Southeast Asia correspondent, said.
He was speaking during an online event titled “Media under COVID-19: Adapt to Survive?”. It was held by the FCCT to mark Saturday’s World Press Freedom Day.
He was expressing concern after many governments declared they are the sole source of legitimate information on COVID-19 under a state of emergency.
“It has an intimidating effect not just on journalists but on officials as well. In our day-to-day work, we would talk to officials and some of them would tell us what they thought was going wrong. They are much more nervous about doing that now,” Head said.
He said regional journalists are facing a deficit in information on the outbreak and struggling with knowledge gaps to provide accurate news reports.
“Officials, even if they keep those statistics, are not in the public domain,” Head said. “Some of the information we have been presented with in Thailand and other countries has been so changeable and inconsistent that we are really put at a huge disadvantage.”
“We are basically following daily broadcasts of the new and total infections, but how much of the real picture they give us is very difficult to assess,” he added.
Noppatjak Attaron, an online editor at Workpoint News, said the local media have compromised with the government because it understands the state of emergency.
“But there are times when we have to hold them accountable [...] but the government is difficult to reach,” Mr Noppatjak said.
“We no longer have reporters go to [...] the place where they announce news daily,” he added. “We lost the [place] where reporters can ask the government questions directly.”