- Associated Press - Wednesday, May 3, 2017

BANGKOK (AP) - Thai media organizations called on the military government Wednesday to withdraw a bill that would set up an appointed council to regulate print and online media and require journalists to be licensed or risk jail.

The Protection of Media Rights and Freedom, Ethics and Professional Standards Act was passed Monday by the National Reform Steering Assembly, a 200-member body appointed by the military after it took power in a 2014 coup.

Thirty Thai media organizations issued a joint statement Wednesday - World Press Freedom Day - calling for withdrawal of the bill, which must receive Cabinet and legislative approval before becoming law.

In an open letter a day earlier to Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha, they said the bill restricts freedom of expression and its definition of media that require licenses is too broad. Officials have said that “the media” includes news websites, blogs and Facebook pages.

Broadcast media are already regulated by a state agency.

“They think that if they can control the people who express their opinions, they can control the spread of information,” Suthichai Yoon, co-founder of the English-language newspaper The Nation, said at a news conference organized by the media groups. “But they forget that the social dynamics of news has evolved due to technology and, now, nobody can control it.”

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has said that the bill is necessary because the press is unable to regulate itself.

“The problem is that we’ve handed responsibility to media organizations before but even they admit that they cannot handle it,” Prayuth told reporters last week.

“I do not agree with the bill yet,” he said. “For me to agree with it I would have to listen to the people - what they say, what the media say.”

Thailand’s military government has tried hard to muzzle critics. In March, the military-appointed broadcast regulators ordered a television channel to suspend its over-the-air broadcasting for a week for what it called biased reports affecting national security. Last month, authorities declared it illegal to exchange information on the internet with three prominent government critics who often write about the country’s monarchy.

The 15-member council that would be set up under the bill would include at least two government officials.

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