Thai iTV to stay on air, for now

CNN.com

POSTED: 0939 GMT (1739 HKT), March 7, 2007

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) — Thailand’s only privately owned
television station can continue broadcasting pending completion of the
government’s takeover of its operations, a senior official said
Wednesday.

The decision to allow iTV to stay on the air,
announced by the permanent secretary to the Prime Minister’s Office,
Chulayud Hiranyawasit, marked a reversal of the government’s previous
position.

Thailand’s military-installed government took over the
independent television station Tuesday and said it would be temporarily
pulled off the air after it failed to pay millions of dollars in unpaid
license fees.

The takeover was expected after the government
announced last week it would terminate ITV’s license on Tuesday — the
deadline for paying nearly 100 billion baht ($3 billion) in fines,
unpaid broadcasting license fees and interest.

Dhipavadee
Meksawan, a minister in the prime minister’s office, told reporters the
station would be shut starting Wednesday but could resume broadcasts as
early as Friday if government legal experts could resolve legal issues
for the transition to new ownership.

She said the network would be managed by the government’s Public Relations Department until a new operator is hired.

ITV
— which stands for Independent TV — was once controlled by Thaksin
Shinawatra, the prime minister ousted in a September coup.

The
military replaced Thaksin with Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont, who
initially pledged that ITV would continue broadcasting without
interruption despite the expected government takeover.

“My intention is to have free media but if it has legal ramifications then we’ll have to do what’s right,” he told reporters.

Government officials had previously said none of ITV’s 1,010 employees would lose their jobs.


Thaksin’s former telecom empire

The
network is part of Thaksin’s former telecommunications empire, Shin
Corp., which was sold to the Singapore government’s investment arm,
Temasek Holdings, in January 2006.

The Thai government is
investigating several aspects of the January 2006 Shin Corp. deal,
which was at the center of a political crisis that led to Thaksin’s
ouster.

The deal drew widespread protests, with critics saying it
was structured to avoid taxes and that it placed strategic assets —
such as communications satellites owned by subsidiary Shin Satellites
— in the hands of foreigners.

The government’s case against ITV
dates back to 2002 and is separate from the Shin Corp. scandal. But the
decision Tuesday is, nonetheless, another setback for Shin’s image.

ITV
was set up in 1992 in the aftermath of bloody pro-democracy street
protests, as part of a broad movement to report news impartially. All
television stations until then were owned by the military or the
government and had been restricted from broadcasting the 1992 protests
that overthrew Thailand’s then-military-backed government.

After
Shin Corp. took over ITV in 2001, the network drew criticism for
lacking impartiality, particularly in its coverage of Thaksin’s
administration. Under Shin Corp, ITV was offered a lower annual
concession fee and was allowed to increase its entertainment content
and dilute news coverage.

A court ruled last year that changes
made by an arbitrator to the terms of its concession contract with the
government were illegal, prompting the Prime Minister’s Office, which
granted the concession, to demand the fines, unpaid fees and interest.
The station lost its final appeal in December.

Following the
government’s announcement, ITV broadcast reaction from viewers and
employees expressing their support for the network and shock at its
imminent closure.

The network had fiercely opposed the idea of
temporarily blacking out the station, saying it would hurt ratings and
drive away advertisers.

The government’s move was the latest in a
series of controversial decisions that have sparked concern among
investors and the public about the direction of Thailand’s
military-installed leaders.

Investors have criticized policies,
including the imposition of capital controls and new restrictions
placed on foreign ownership of Thai companies.

In January CNN’s
transmission of an interview with Thaksin was blocked by satellite
company UBC throughout Thailand after the military ordered the
country’s news media to refrain from carrying any messages or images of
him. (Full story)

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


Thai government to allow private TV station to stay on air pending state takeover

BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) – Thailand’s only privately owned television
station can continue broadcasting until the government completes a
takeover of its operations, a senior official said Wednesday. 

The decision to allow iTV to stay on the air, announced by the
permanent secretary to the Prime Minister’s Office, Chulayud
Hiranyawasit, was a reversal of the government’s previous position. 

The Cabinet revoked iTV’s broadcasting concession on Tuesday after the
station said it could not pay nearly 100 billion baht (US$3 billion;
euro2.3 billion) in fines, unpaid broadcasting license fees and
interest due to the government. 

The station was once controlled by Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime
minister ousted in a September military coup. Under Thaksin’s
government, iTV won a 2004 ruling from an arbitration board allowing it
to pay a lower annual concession fee to the government and to increase
its entertainment programming while reducing less-profitable news
coverage. 

But a court ruled last year that the arbitrator’s changes were illegal,
prompting the new military-installed government to demand the fines,
unpaid fees and interest. 

Wednesday’s decision to allow broadcasts to continue was applauded by
iTV’s staff and supporters, who gathered in front of the station in
black attire starting Tuesday night in a last-ditch attempt to keep the
station on the air. 

The decision came after the Council of State, the government’s legal
advisory body, ruled that the transfers of assets and contracts from
the broadcaster to the government was compliant with the law. The
station’s operations are to be handed over to the state Public
Relations Department, which already operates TV Channel 11. 

ITV began broadcasting in 1996 as part of a broad movement to improve news coverage.  

All television stations until then were owned by the military or the
government and had been restricted from broadcasting the 1992 protests
that overthrew Thailand’s then-military-backed government. 

Station employees have appealed to both the courts and the public to
allow them to remain on the air, fearing that even a temporary
cessation of broadcasting could greatly harm iTV.-AP 

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