Thai media face further restrictions as Prime Minister gives sweeping powers to broadcast and press regulators.

The new orders issued by the National Council of Peace and Order (NCPO), which is headed by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, gives regulators the power to shut down media outlets without the right to appeal and under full immunity from civil, criminal or disciplinary repercussions.

One regulator, the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), has been told to monitor broadcasters against airing reports ‘deemed detrimental to the political system’ or that which destabilises national stability or ‘damage[s] the moral value of the people’, according to Rapid TV News. This includes any content deemed derogatory towards the ruling elite or the head of state.

The new orders are part of powers given to the Thai government under Article 44 of its interim charter, which came into effect following the military coup of 2014. They have been widely lambasted as further limiting freedom of expression and the media by print, broadcast and online news outlets across the country as well as five prominent journalist associations.

Worryingly, the imposition of these powers comes ahead of next month’s vital referendum on the conditions of Thailand’s new constitution.

At a time when the independence of regulators is essential to ensure the public has access to a broad array of vital information ahead of a vote, it is feared that these new powers could limit the extent to which media outlets critically report on the referendum through fear of the repercussions.

By Kristian Porter