Membership selection process for independent broadcast regulator criticised

20 September 2004
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Bangkok

ALERT – THAILAND

(SEAPA/IFEX) – Thai independent media advocates have decried a controversial decision by a national selection committee to call for a new selection round for membership in the country’s first independent broadcast regulator, the National Broadcasting Commission (NBC), based on a previous controversial list of candidates.

In a statement released on 14 September 2004, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA) proposed the recruitment of additional candidates to the present 103 candidates seeking posts in the seven-member body, in order to give the NBC selection panel more choices. TBJA argued that many of the original candidates, on the list since 2000, would be disqualified by now on
account of their age. The age limit for candidates is 70 years old.

On 9 September, NBC Selection Panel Chairman Somporn Thepsittha said the panel unanimously agreed that the new selection round, which is to start in November, will be based on the original list.

TBJA also called on the panel to ensure a transparent and fair selection process that takes into account civil society’s views. “TBJA is concerned that the much-delayed selection process will stall again if the NBC selection panel sticks to its rules of the game,” said the association’s executive director, Sopit Wangvivattana.

In a joint petition filed with the Senate Committee on Social and Human Security Development on 15 September, TBJA, the Thai Journalists Association and the Thai Cable Television Operators Association urged the senate committee to scrutinise the NBC selection panel to ensure a transparent and fair selection process for the NBC.

TBJA and its allies argued that the selection panel’s decision went against the High Administrative Court’s 2003 ruling invalidating the committee’s previous selection process. The court said the process, in which 103 candidates were short-listed to 14, was illegal since some of the
individuals on the shortlist had vested interests with members of the selection panel.

Meanwhile, the Council of Mass Communication Faculty Members of Thailand, which is represented in the selection panel, pointed out that the selection committee’s decision was not unanimous since its own representatives on the panel preferred additional candidates.

The slow and flawed NBC selection process reflects the government’s reluctance to allow an independent broadcast reform process, mandated by the 1997 Constitution, which called for major legal reforms in the broadcast sector. The reforms are aimed at ending the state monopoly on the
broadcasting and telecommunication sectors, and the setting up of an independent broadcast regulator to ensure a fair allocation of broadcast frequencies and more equitable sharing of public and community broadcast services.

Stakeholders in the pre-1997 broadcast industry, including the government’s Public Relations Department and the army, have also nominated their own candidates, hoping to influence the NBC once the body becomes operational.

On 24 August 2004, the Senate, in questionable ballot casting, voted in seven candidates to sit on the National Telecommunication Commission (NTC), an independent body set up by the Constitution to act as a fair and neutral agent in deregulating the market and issuing new telecom licences.

Some senators, private telecom operators and media watchdogs suspected vote rigging took place, since 83 out of 186 senators who cast their ballots voted for the same seven candidates. They also said the elected NTC members not only represented former state telecom officials but were also connected with private telecom companies. One of them serves as vice chairman of Shin
Satellite, a subsidiary of Shin Corp.

For further information, contact Rosario Liquicia or Kulachada Chaipipat at SEAPA, 538/1 Samsen Road, Dusit, Bangkok, 10300 Thailand, tel/fax: +662 243 5579, e-mail: seapa@seapabkk.org, Internet: http://www.seapabkk.org

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