Senate’s appointment of questionable regulators could further stall broadcast reform in Thailand

30 September 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

Senate’s appointment of long-awaited National Broadcasting Commission (NBC) could create another legal stumbling block to a reform process aimed at ending state control over the broadcasting industry.

In a secret ballot casting on 23 September, the upper house voted in 7 out of 14 finalists including some with conflict of interest in broadcast industry to sit in the country’s first independent broadcast regulatory body. Minority senators suspected the vote was rigged after it was discovered that 84 senators out of 161 present at the session voted for exact same candidates.

Legal experts and opponents of the senate’s NBC vote already warned if the NBC appointees will ever get to receive a royal endorsement due to its legal complication. This they said could further delay the liberalisation of the broadcast industry.

Broadcast watchdog groups and media reform advocates protested that the NBC vote went against a recommendation made by a senate scrutinising subcommittee that some of the finalists had conflicts of interest in the broadcast industry and that the selection process let to their nomination was flawed. It was the second round of NBC nomination.

In 2003, Supreme Administrative Court had ruled to invalidate the first round of NBC nomination due to its skewed process.

Media reformists are facing dilemma whether or not to let the final but flawed NBC nomination go because in the absence of the NBC, state freely manipulated airwaves as a way of controlling the broadcast media.

Campaign for Popular Democracy Reform is preparing to file criminal lawsuits against the senate and agencies involved with the selection process for malfeasance.

Senator Chirmsak Pinthong casted doubt if the new NBC appointees would ensure fairness and transparency in the frequency allocation since some of them are linked to either state and commercial stakeholders in the current broadcasting business.

On 28 September, the broadcast professional watchdog Thai Broadcast Journalists Association (TBJA) expressed disappointment with senate’s decision to give NBC a go ahead. TBJA however urged the public to closely monitor the NBC to ensure that it performs duty in line with the constitutional mandate given.

Business operators however welcomed it as a bold move to kick-start a much-delayed process to liberalise the broadcast industry.

Background
Mandated by Article 40 of the Constitution, NBC is one of the country’s independent broadcast regulators to police a new national broadcast policy that will liberalise the country’s broadcast sector from a monopoly by the state and its business cronies. The body will ensure a fair competition in the broadcasting business and that consumer’s rights and public interest are protected.

The slow and flawed NBC selection process reflects the state’s reluctance to allow an independent broadcast reform process.

Stakeholders in the broadcast industry, including the government’s Public Relations Department and the army, have scurried in to nominate their candidates, hoping to influence the NBC once the body becomes operational.