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Thailand Suspends TV Station Linked to Shinawatra Clan

Nontarat Phaicharoen
Bangkok
2019-02-12
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A street vendor pushes a cart past an electoral campaign poster of Pheu Chart Party candidate Pattrakan Kitwicha, in Bangkok, Feb. 12, 2019.
A street vendor pushes a cart past an electoral campaign poster of Pheu Chart Party candidate Pattrakan Kitwicha, in Bangkok, Feb. 12, 2019.
AP

With about six weeks left till a general election, Thai authorities have ordered a television station linked to deposed ex-Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to go off air for 15 days, accusing it of airing content causing public confusion and divisiveness.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission’s (NBTC) order against Voice TV was issued Tuesday, officials said. Members of the public had filed multiple complaints against the station since 2015, the commission said as it pointed out how Voice TV was previously shut down over similar issues.

“The license is suspended for 15 days from the date of order issued,” NBTC commissioner Peerapong Manakit told reporters, alleging that the station had been involved in “creating confusion and instigating disturbance.”

Responding to the telecoms regulator’s order, Voice TV chief executive Mekin Petplai described the ruling junta’s action as discriminatory and said he would file a lawsuit seeking more than 100 million baht (U.S. $3.2 million) in damages.

“We know that there would be an order to suspend our station, which would cause impacts,” Mekin said in a press statement. “We really consider it discrimination.”

He said the company would seek temporary protection from the Administrative Court.

Voice TV, owned by Thaksin’s son, Ponthongtae Shinawatra, has been shut down twice before – in 2014 and 2017.

In 2015, NBTC received four complaints against the station, 11 the following year, 10 in 2017 and nine last year, Peerapong said.

He said two programs on Voice TV – Wake Up News and Tonight Thailand – had received three complaints since January this year. But he declined to specify which content had caused public confusion.

“I would not say much details. I will not mention the offenses to others,” he said. “There are programs broadcast that caused confusion, incitement, something like that. We warned them. Is this measure unreasonable?  It is not overly unreasonable.”

A copy of the NBTC order mentioned Voice TV interviews with two prime ministerial hopefuls from Thaksin’s Pheu Thai party, according to Reuters.

Takorn Tantasith, NBTC’s secretary-general, said the television station had violated several sections of the 2008 Broadcasting Act.

Voice TV was first shut down in 2014, two days before a coup that overthrew Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Thaksin’s younger sister. Thaksin served as prime minister from 2001 until he was overthrown in a coup in September 2006.

Yingluck fled Thailand in August 2017 before she was to appear in court to hear the verdict over charges of gross negligence in a failed rice subsidy scheme during her tenure. A month later, she was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison.

Government officials said they were unsure of the Shinawatras’ whereabouts, but the siblings were recently photographed together in Singapore.

The March 24 polls will be the first electoral battle between the followers of the Shinawatras and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, a former army general who led the military coup that toppled Yingluck five years ago.

The NBTC order came the same day that Thai Raksa Chart, a populist movement linked to Thaksin and the Shinawatra clan, expressed public contrition for selecting Princess Ubolratana as its prime ministerial choice, an unprecedented political bid for a member of the royal family.

King Maha Vajiralongkorn quashed the princess’ candidacy within hours, chiding it as “highly inappropriate” in the Buddhist-majority nation where the wealthy monarchy is revered and protected by Lese-Majesté, a draconian law that protects the royal family against insults and offensive statements.

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