The 65th World Newspaper Congress, 20th World Editors Forum and 23rd World Advertising Forum opened in Bangkok on Monday with praise for media liberalization occurring in Myanmar and a call for greater press freedom in Thailand.
Jacob Mathew, President of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), opened the global gathering by congratulating journalists and publishers in Myanmar "who have been waging a heroic struggle against what appeared to be insurmountable odds."
"They have now achieved the freedom to publish," said Mr Mathew, speaking before more than 1,500 publishers, chief editors, CEOs and other senior news media executives from 66 countries and their guests, ambassadors and other dignitaries. "WAN-IFRA reiterates its firm commitment to the development of a free and flourishing media in Myanmar."
Mr Mathew also had praise for the developing media market in Thailand and the country's "spirit of freedom." But he added: "That is why much of the world is astounded to find that the media does not enjoy untrammelled freedom of expression in 'the Land of the Free.'"
Speaking to an audience that included Thai Deputy Prime Minister Kittirat Na Ranong, Mr Mathew criticised Article 112 of the Criminal Code, the "lèse-majesté" law intended to prevent offences against the king and the royal family and has been used to jail journalists.
"We understand the historical reasons for the existence of lèse-majesté law, but WAN-IFRA is deeply concerned by its misuse that has led in some cases to the arrest and imprisonment of editors, publishers and journalists," he said. "These undue arrests and imprisonments run counter to the principles of press freedom and are a violation of the rights of citizens. It will thwart the development of an independent, strong and vibrant media."
Because anyone – private or government -- can file a lèse-majesté case against anyone else, "the misuse of the law has created a climate of fear," Mr Mathew said, adding that improving Thailand's press freedom situation would "encourage other South East Asian countries like Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Malaysia to move faster toward greater press freedom."
The Congress, Editors Forum and Advertising Forum, organised by WAN-IFRA, will continue for three days of discussions focused on the transformation of the news publishing industry in the digital age.