Reporters Without Borders reiterated its concern about the uncertain future of Thailand’s third most watched television station, iTV, after it was transferred to state control yesterday and renamed Thailand-Independent Television (TiTV).
It was supposed to have been placed under the control of the Mass Communication Organisation of Thailand (MCOT), but the Council of State decided at the last minute that for the time being it will be run by the Public Relations Department (PRD), which already operates Channel 11.
Dhipavadee Meksawan, a senior aide to the prime minister, had said iTV would have to stop broadcasting at the moment of its transfer to state control but in the end this did not happen, and the station continued to broadcast without interruption. Her announcement had caused considerable unrest among the station’s staff as well as an outcry from viewers.
Plans to fire all the staff seem to have been partially shelved if one is to believe the comments of PRD director-general Pramote Ratthavinij, who will be in charge of TiTV. “Changes to programming, personnel and finance will probably occur, but the changes will not be sudden,” he said.
Legal experts have said the PRD should run TiTV until the National Broadcasting Commission appoints a new operator. Somkiat Tangkitvanich, the head of the Thailand Development Research Institute, has submitted a proposal to the government for the British Broadcasting Corporation to be used as a model for how to run TiTV.
iTV taken into state control, PTV still being blocked
Reporters Without Borders today expressed concern after the state-run Mass Communication Organization of Thailand (MCOT) took control of iTV when a 30-year concession, accorded on its creation in 1995, was revoked after it failed to pay a record fine of 100.45 billion baht (2.3 billion euros) by 6 March 2007.
“We fear that the reorganisation of iTV orchestrated by this public group will have a harmful effect on the channel’s editorial line,” the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “We also condemn certain statements by the government spokesman suggesting that they would carry out a ‘cleansing’ of the channel,” it added.
The third most watched channel in the kingdom passed into state control on 7 March under the umbrella of MCOT, which already owns Channel 9, various radio stations and the Thai News Agency (TNA). The station has been renamed Thailand-Independent Television (T-iTV). The Finance ministry owns 66% of the MCOT group and the Bank of Thailand 11.5%.
Government representatives said that the channel would interrupt programmes during the handover and that the group’s 1,010 employees would have to reapply for their jobs if they wanted to continue to work there. Staff at the channel feared that the temporary shut down would trigger a mass defection of advertisers which would damage profitability.
Reporters Without Borders pointed out that the satellite channel People’s Television (PTV) which was due to start broadcasting from 1st March 2007, was still being blocked by the military junta. The government banned broadcasts by PTV, which is linked to the former ruling party, on the pretext that it had not obtained its government licence.
“It is unacceptable that the government is preventing PTV from putting out programmes. Improper use of legislation, which it bends to its will in order to censor media, constitutes a violation of press freedom by the government”, it said.