'Distorted news' deemed health issue in junta-run Thailand

BANGKOK — Thailand's military government says it is fighting a new threat to public health: distorted news reports.

The country's health ministry announced Tuesday it is launching a new smartphone application that will allow users to flag media content they find "inappropriate" so it can be forwarded to government authorities.

"I believe that we can all help guard, observe, investigate and support the process of having safe and positive media to benefit our youth, families and society in general," Panpimol Wipulakorn, deputy director-general of the health ministry, said at a news conference.

While the ministry says the "Media Watch" app is an important tool to protect society from "unsafe" media, it comes as Thailand is led by a military junta that maintains broad restrictions on freedom of speech and assembly and has sought to stifle all criticism under the guise of maintaining order and protecting national security.

The junta has put a particular focus on stamping out criticism of the country's monarchy, which is protected by a strict lese majeste law that mandates up to 15 years in prison per offense. Such prosecutions have increased under the junta, drawing condemnation from around the globe.

Wasant Paileeklee, manager of a government program that helped develop the app, said content flagged by users would be forwarded to media councils to consider or to government departments such as the broadcast regulator or ministry of culture for possible legal prosecution.

"In the past, when people reported something it would take a very long time and the issue might even fade away," Wasant said.

The application includes a function for users to track whether their report has been dealt with.

Thanicha Limpanich, manager of the Family Network Foundation under the Ministry of Public Health, said the application will go through a three-month trial period before launching to Android users.

The app's logo features a cartoon character with big blue eyes and long eyelashes staring out and pointing two fingers at viewers.

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