The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) condemned the 27 March 2017 National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) order suspending VOICE TV‘s license to operate for seven days starting midnight on Tuesday.
SEAPA found the NBTC decision deplorable given Thailand’s claim that it is moving toward normalcy and reconciliation.
The NBTC’s suspension of VOICE TV is an extremely disproportionate response — an overkill shutting down the entire station and all its programming — to broadcast content that is well within the station’s prerogative.
The decision demonstrates the enormous power given to the NBTC by the military regime in July 2016. Considering all previous suspensions of programs and television (TV) anchors, the NBTC has clearly become a censorship body for broadcast media in Thailand.
This shutdown of VOICE TV is an attack on freedom of opinion, which is the inviolable component of the right to free expression. Press freedom guarantees that news and current affairs programs facilitate the formation of opinion on public interest issues free from government interference.
The broadcasting regulatory body’s decision was in response to complaints filed by the Royal Thai Army’s Media Monitoring Committee against three TV programs in VOICE TV station on 15 and 20 March 2017. The programs criticized the military’s use of power in the following issues: on the events related to the Dhammakaya Temple, a new tax claim against former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinnawatra, the arms seizure from a fugitive red-shirt leader, the extrajudicial killing of a young Lahu human rights defender, the abuse of power by some military personnel in personal feud with individuals, and conflict of interest in a Cambodian-operated casino on the disputed area along the Thai-Cambodian border.
In the order, NBTC found that the content of the programs were imbalanced and biased. NBTC Commissioner Lt. Gen. Peerapong Manakij said that VOICE TV has repeatedly violated Article 37 of the Broadcasting and Television Business Act B.E.2551 (2008) and National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) orders no. 97/2014 and no. 103/2014 for 10 times in 2016 and two times in 2017. “All the mistakes have the same pattern,” said Peerapong. According to the commissioner, there have been little and substandard improvement in the programs despite several warnings to the station. He said that the station has just moved news commentators from the concerned programs to other programs.
Political actors and the Shinawatra family of ousted Prime Minister Thaksin own the digital news and public affairs channel. Since the NCPO took power from the elected government in May 2014, VOICE TV has been constantly critical of the military role in governance issues, the national reform process, and the handling of reconciliation between pro-Thaksin Red-Shirt political movement and pro-military Yellow-Shirt movement.