Reporters Without Borders today condemned the Thai government’s censorship of PTV, a new Thai TV station based in Hong Kong. PTV’s programmes were blocked on 18 March after it had been broadcasting for nearly 10 hours by satellite.
A PTV employee said the government did not say what images or content it objected to. "The military government’s repeated censorship completely contradicts the supposedly democratic aspirations that have been professed since the military takeover," the employee added.
PTV was launched by Thai Rak Thai, a party linked to deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. It had planned to start broadcasting 24 hours a day on 1 March, but was prevented by the government, which claimed it had not obtained the necessary licence. To sidestep these obstacles, PTV then decided to join up with Star Channel MV1, an existing Thai satellite broadcaster.
Interim government urged not to repeat Thaksin’s faults with two TV stations
Reporters Without Borders today called on Thailand’s military-installed interim government, the Council for National Security (CNS), and in particular Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, not to repeat the errors of the past by trying to censor the media and above all control TV broadcasting.
The press freedom organisation said it hoped the CNS would not censor People’s Television (PTV), a satellite station linked to deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra due to start broadcasting today from Hong Kong, and that the privately-owned television station iTV would be able to recover its independence and not be placed under state control.
"The military who took power on 19 September rejected Thaksin’s policies," Reporters Without Borders said. "So it is regrettable that the CNS has not begun a policy of media liberalisation and is repeating the mistakes made by Thaksin, who tried to suppress dissident media. The public must be guaranteed access to diverse sources of news and information, regardless of their affiliation or orientation, so that people can form their own views."
Affiliated to Thai Rak Thai, a party linked to Thaksin, PTV was due to begin round-the-clock satellite broadcasting from Hong Kong today, but the CNS has vowed to prevent the launch from day one and accuses PTV of not obtaining a government licence. It has appointed a special team of lawyers to block the launch and is threatening to prosecute PTV’s promoters.
A source close to the CNS said the government fears that this new TV station would foment divisions in Thailand and that it would harder to stop it once broadcasting had got under way. Thirapat Serirangsan, who is minister of the Prime Minister’s office, said Thaksin allowed the media to mushroom, which in the new government’s view was a mistake to be avoided.
Some 300 radio stations and websites have been censored since the military takeover. All the media have also been asked to "cooperate" with the new government and not behave in a "dissident" manner that could foster "general confusion" harmful for the public.
Reporters Without Borders also condemns the lawsuits that have been brought against iTV, and a demand for the payment of a record 100.45 billion baht (2.25 billion euros) in unpaid concession fees and fines. Thailand’s first independent television station, iTV obtained a 30-year concession when it was created in 1995. It was noted for its free and independent editorial policies, which were protected by the fact that no shareholder could control more than 10 per cent of the company.
All that changed in 1997 when Shin Corporation - then owned by Thaksin, who had not yet become prime minister - took advantage of the fact that iTV was on the verge of bankruptcy to acquire a controlling, 53-per cent stake. Thereafter iTV began to lose its independence and investigative journalism was replaced by entertainment.
In 2004, when Thaksin was prime minister, an arbitration panel cut iTV’s annual concession fees from 1 billion to 230 million baht and said it could broadcast more entertainment programmes - all of which was clearly very beneficial to the Thaksin family-owned Shin Corporation. Prior to the military takeover, Shin Corporation and iTV were sold to Temasek Holdings, a Singaporean financial group.
The CNS repudiated the arbitration panel’s ruling and sued iTV for failing to pay the full concession fees since 1 April 2004. As a result, a court ordered the station to pay 100.45 billion baht in accumulated concession fees and fines by 6 March and the CNS has announced that iTV will be transferred to state control if it has not paid by the deadline.