Thailand: Implementing access to information law to build back strong institutions for the public
The right to information is an integral part of the fundamental right to freedom of expression, which encompasses the right ‘to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers’ (1948 United Nations General Assembly, ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’, Article 19; hereafter ‘UDHR’). This right to information places a positive obligation on Member States to recognize the right and develop user-friendly systems to enable practical access to public information, both by responding to requests for information and by disclosing information proactively.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and heightened the importance of access to information, all the more so in times of crisis. Access to accurate and timely information helps people make safe and informed choices, with governments having a corresponding obligation to disseminate widely public interest information. Access to information also promotes accountability regarding the highly impactful decisions governments make during emergencies.
The UN Secretary-General has noted the need for the ‘free flow of timely, accurate, factual information and disaggregated data’ (2020 UNESCO Issue Brief, ‘The Right to Information in Times of Crisis: Access to Information – Saving Lives, Building Trust, Bringing Hope!’), including the enabling of scrutiny and critique of the effectiveness of government measures responding to the pandemic. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also stressed the importance of transparency during health emergencies.
In recent years, the right to information in Thailand has been challenged by a shrinking democratic space and multiple instatements of state-of-emergency decrees, both occasioned by ongoing political tensions and the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the country’s adoption of its own Official Information Act of 1997, public attempts to exercise this access to information law in times of crisis have faced many challenges.
A recent example of such challenges is to be had in increasing public demands for the Thai government to be more transparent in matters pertaining to its pandemic management and public health record. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Thailand still lacks timely public access to accurate data, resulting in an impaired national COVID-19 response. In June 2021, similar issues were raised by online news organizations at a roundtable discussion regarding a ‘COVID-19 infodemic’ in Thailand.
To commemorate the International Day for the Universal Access to Information on 28 September 2021, UNESCO in cooperation with the Thailand Office of the Official Information Commission (OIC) and COFACT, a civil society fact-checking network, will organize an online public discussion to highlight the role of access to information law and its implementation in Thailand so as to ‘build back’ strong institutions for the public good, particularly in times of public health crises.
The webinar will contribute toward enhancing the capacity of both duty bearers and rights holders to monitor and advocate for progress towards greater information access, which is recognized as a target in the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 16.10).
The points of discussion include:
- The role of Thailand’s access to information law and their implementation, in particular in the promotion of access to public health information
- The challenges faced by duty-bearers (OIC, Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, National Health Commission Officer); and rights holders (media, civil society organizations, general public) seeking to access public health information during the COVID-19 pandemic
- Building on international ‘best practices’ and Thailand’s own lessons learnt from the COVID-19 infodemic. How might Thailand improve its access to information laws and public health information?
Date: 28 September 2021
Time: 2 pm – 4.30 pm (Bangkok time)
Format: Online public discussion
Languages: English and Thai
Registration link: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeSOEw8JNFHrL5GgplIWon5Iol66svNJ986iTU_hjMgCfpEow/viewform
|2.00-2.15||Opening||Video message from H.E. Mr Remco van Wijngaarden, Ambassador Designate of the Netherlands to Thailand, Cambodia and Laos
Mr Shigeru Aoyagi, Director, UNESCO Bangkok
|2.15-3.00||Access to information law in Thailand||Moderator: Ms Misako Ito, Adviser for Communication and Information, UNESCO Bangkok|
|International standards of access to information||Mr Marius Lukošiūnas, Advisor for Communication and Information, UNESCO Headquarters|
|The role of Thailand’s Official Information Act and central oversight institution||Ms Pawana Rurkrai, Director of Policies and Analysis Division, Office of the Official Information Commission (OIC)|
|Evolution of Thailand’s Official Information Act||Dr Mark Tamthai, Institute of Religion, Culture and Peace, Payap University|
|Access to information through OIC's appealing mechanism: Experience of Isranews Agency||Mr Prasong Lertratanawisute, Director, Isranews Agency|
|3.00-3.45||Implementation of access to information law in Thailand in the context of public health crisis||Moderator: Ms Supinya Klangnarong,
Co-founder, COFACT Thailand
|Challenges faced by right-holders to exercise their right of access to information||Mr Pongpiphat Banchanont, Senior Editor, The Matter
Mr Rawee Tawantharong, President, Society for Online News Provider Association (SONP)
|Challenges faced by duty-bearers to facilitate access to public health information||Dr Supot Tirawut, President and CEO, Digital Government Development Agency (DGA)
Dr Weerasak Puttharsi, Deputy Secrertary-General National Health Commission Office (NHCO)
|3.45-4.15||Implementing access to information law to build back strong institutions for the public: Lessons learnt and way forward||Moderator: Ms Katia Chirizzi, Deputy Representative, OHCHR Regional Office for South-East Asia
Ms Pijitra Suppasawatgul, Vice Dean for Social Engagement, Faculty of Communication Arts, Chulalongkorn University
Open discussion and questions
|4.15-4.30||Closing remarks||Dr Uajit Virojtrairatt, COFACT Thailand, and Ms Misako Ito, UNESCO Bangkok|
View poster in Thai