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Shinawatra-linked Voice TV Can Stay on Air, Thai Court Rules

Nontarat Phaicharoen and Wilawan Watcharasakwet
Bangkok
2019-02-27
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Voice TV chief executive Mekin speaks to reporters after a Thai administrative court ruled for the station’s right to broadcast, Feb 27, 2019.
Voice TV chief executive Mekin speaks to reporters after a Thai administrative court ruled for the station’s right to broadcast, Feb 27, 2019.
Nontarat Phaicharoen/BenarNews

Updated at 4:52 p.m. ET on 2019-02-27

A court in junta-led Thailand ruled Wednesday that national broadcasting regulators had unlawfully suspended a TV station owned by the son of fugitive former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) on Feb. 12 ordered Voice TV to go dark for 15 days, accusing the station of airing program content that caused public confusion and divisiveness.

The station went off the air at midnight Feb. 13 but began broadcasting again on Feb. 15 after lodging a suit against the NBTC and obtaining a court injunction.

“The order of the accused is not correct according to the procedures ... Therefore, the resolution of the accused is not fair,” the administrative court in Bangkok said as it ruled in favor of Voice TV, referring to the commission as the accused party in the station’s lawsuit.

Also on Wednesday, a court delayed taking action on a call to dissolve a political party that had nominated Princess Ubolratana Rajakanya Sirivadhana Barnavadi as its prime ministerial choice for Thailand’s general election, scheduled for March 24.

In addition, the attorney general delayed a decision on filing charges against the leader of Future Forward Party until March 26, two days after the polls.

“We filed a petition to the Administrative Court over the suspension order of Voice TV because we want to make a standard that regulatory government’s agency must be politically balance and respect media freedom and freedom of speech,” Voice TV Chief Executive Mekin Petplai told reporters after Wednesday’s ruling.

Thaksin and his sister, Yingluck Shinawatra, are both deposed former prime ministers who live in exile. They have been banned from taking part directly in Thai politics, but they remain influential and their opposition Pheu Thai Party has fielded candidates for the upcoming election.

Thai Raksa Chart party

The NBTC order against Voice TV came the same day that the Thai Raksa Chart party, a populist movement linked to the Shinawatra clan, expressed public contrition for selecting Princess Ubolratana as its prime ministerial choice.

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.

On Wednesday, the Constitutional Court set March 7 as the date to announce its verdict regarding whether the party should be dissolved. The Election Commission initially found that the party was “hostile to the constitutional monarchy” and requested that the court rule against the party.

“The court discussed the matter and found that the case has substantial evidence and there is no need for further hearings. ... The court will consider the case in the afternoon on March 7 and will announce the decision later on the same day,” the court said in a statement delivered to the media.

A legal adviser for the Thai Raksa Chart Party who appeared at the court Wednesday said the party would accept the decision regardless of the results.

“The party has submitted clarification to the accusation and witnesses’ accounts that we have no intent to be hostile to the constitutional monarchy,” Surachai Shinchai told the media. “Regardless of the results, we would accept it.”

As they wait for the court to rule, party leaders continue to campaign.

Attorney general announcement

Meanwhile, the attorney general delayed a decision on whether to indict Future Forward Party leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit and two accomplices, whom police have charged with violating Thailand’s Computer Crimes Act, but said it would appoint a committee to consider the case on March 26.

The attorney general alleged that on two occasions in 2018, Thanathorn and his accomplices said that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha, the junta chief, had bought-off politicians from other parties.

“Because these cases are important and are interested to the media and people, the attorney general chief will order a setup of a committee to consider the case,” deputy spokesman Prayuth Petchkoon said.

“We believe in our innocence. We believe people have rights to criticize the rulers, a basic democratic right,” said Thanatorn who appeared at the attorney general office Wednesday morning. “We believe the attorney general should perform the duty duly.”

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