15 September 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
On 15 September, civil right and media freedom groups, academic and media professionals united behind a move to fence off an unprecedented cross-media takeover by GMM Grammy Group, the entertainment media giant known to have good rapport with the government of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.
They declared to a forum, packed with some 300 participants that this is a people all-out war to safeguard, not only freedom of the press but also civil liberty as a whole.
On 12 September GMM Media Plc, a unit of GMM Grammy Group announced that it acquired 32.23% stake of Matichon Plc and hoped to win up to 75% stake. It also acquired a 20.9% stake and is targeting 23.6% in Post Publishing.
Mitichon group vowed to launch a counterbid to prevent what it called a hostile takeover aimed at undermining the credibility and independence of the newspapers.
“Let’s take Matichon case to wake up the society,” Pibob Dongchai of Campaign for Democracy Reform told the forum, being orgainsed by Thai Journalists Association in response to the GMM Grammy’s takeover of Matichon group and Post Publishing.
The two publishers altogether publish five national newspapers that has won the trust of society, especially among the intellectuals and middle class, for helping promote democratic values and being anti-corruption.
Research Director of Thailand Development Research Institute Dr. Somkiat Tankitvanij told the forum that the successful takeover would make the GMM Grammy Group the second largest holder of market shares in newspaper business after the country’s top-circulation local daily, “Thai Rath”. Somkiat said this was beside the fact that the entertainment firm already controlled the market for entertainment publications, monopolised the music industry, and yet become a biggest television and radio producer.
Among recommendation made at the forum is to launch of a signatory campaign of 50,000 names calling for the government’s protection of the newspapers industry from unfair business competition and monopoly.
It also included a call for a legal view on reinvestment of newspaper business in stock markets and on protection against cross-media take-over to maintain independence and pluralism in media.
TJA, along with Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and Economic Reporters Association also issued a joint statement protesting against the cross-media take-over. The statement said the takeover represented a major concentration of media ownership at unprecedented scale.
“This will bode ill for the public rights to know,”said the statement.
The three professional advocacy groups vowed to support all necessary measures and ally with civil groups and academics to ensure the public right to know will not be compromised or used as a bargaining chip for political and economic vested interests.
A Bangkok’s leading English-language daily, “The Nation’ said in its page-one comment that GMM Grammy Group chairman Paiboon Damrongchaitham could not claims he was “nobody’s medium”.
“Since his money-can-buy-anything attitude smacks of Thaksin, who is the reason why money politics has become the modus operandi in every sector in Thailand,” said the comment published in the paper’s 15 September edition.
“Throughout his tenure, Thaksin has undermined the ability of the media to operate independently. Muzzling of the press has become a common practice,”said the Nation.