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Thailand: Press Groups Call on Government to Drop TV Station Ban

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2017-03-28
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screengrab_voiceTV.JPG
Voice TV 21, a station linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has had its broadcasting license suspended for a week.
Screen grab from Voice TV 21’s website

Local and international journalism groups Tuesday asked Thailand’s national broadcast regulator to reverse the suspension of a TV license for a station linked to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra over allegations that it aired biased and seditious programs.

The Thai Journalists Association (TJA) and the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association released a joint statement detailing three objections to a National Broadcast and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) order forcing Voice TV 21 to go dark for a week.

The Thai associations said the order should not have covered all broadcasting by the station because that action hurt all station employees, not just those involved in the questionable programs. They also stated that the government’s action reflected outside interference and a lack of the professional integrity, as well as violated the Thai constitution’s guarantee of press freedom.

“With those reasons, we two associations demand the NBTC to urgently revise the television broadcast committee’s decision. In the case of any programs breaking a law, they should be dealt with under regular law and not a blanket suspension of the entire organization,” they said in the statement.

“This issue must be addressed in the junta reconciliation forum that said any TV channel that commits a crime must be dealt with under the law,” TJA President Pramas Lekpetch told BenarNews, referring to the junta’s endeavor to pursue reconciliation among political parties.

International groups Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) also issued protests against the decision.

The military came to power in a coup that deposed Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra – Thaksin’s sister – in May 2014. He himself was ousted from office in a coup in 2006.

Since seizing power, the military government led by retired army general Prayuth Chan-o-cha has clamped down on media outlets, including those aligned with the Shinawatras. On Monday, the television broadcast committee adopted a resolution to take Voice TV 21 off the air for seven days, beginning Tuesday.

The television broadcast committee said it had received a petition from the government’s media monitoring body saying the station aired biased programs about the military’s recent killing of a Lahu tribe activist and on the seizure of a cache of weapons allegedly linked to Ko Tee, an activist with the Shinawatra-aligned Red Shirts. Ko Tee, who lives in self-imposed exile in neighboring Laos, has been accused of plotting to assassinate Thai leaders.

The junta determined that four programs were biased and seditious and could cause social turbulence, the petition noted.

NBTC Commissioner Lt. Gen. Peerapong Manakij said the station faced 10 suspensions last year and two already in 2017 over its programming.

“It kept repeating the same mistakes, without standard improvement. … The committee viewed the petition as valid and a majority of the committee agreed to suspend the broadcast license,” Peerapong said Monday.

Station CEO Mekin Petchplai told reporters he would appeal the order or sue the NBTC.

“Over time, we have been cooperative and performed our duty duly, but that is what we got. We need to protect our rights,” he said, adding the station’s online site remains live.

Family ties

Voice TV was established in 2003 with two of Thaksin’s children holding a 44 percent stake in the station. Since then, it has been seen as a mouthpiece for Thaksin, who served as prime minister from 2001 to September 2006.

Responding to the suspension, Thaksin’s youngest daughter, Paethongthan Shinawatra, who is not one of the major stakeholders, posted an Instagram message: “Oh, dear. Just do whatever you well please.”

In 2008, Thaksin, who made a fortune in Thailand’s telecommunications industry and stock trading, fled the country but was sentenced to two years in jail for abuse of power. He faces a series of lawsuits in Thailand and received a 17 billion baht (U.S. $494 million) tax bill over the sale of shares of a telecommunications company in 2006.

SEAPA and CPJ both condemned the government’s action.

“The decision demonstrates the enormous power given to the NBTC by the military regime in July 2016. Considering all previous suspensions of programs and TV anchors, the decision is a demonstration of the NBTC’s control powers,” SEAPA said Tuesday.

“Thailand’s military government has consistently said it is preparing to restore democracy but it continues to censor the media in a crude, authoritarian fashion,” Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative, said in a statement issued Monday.

“We call on regulators to reverse the week-long suspension of Voice TV and to stop censoring and harassing the media.”

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