Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Deconstructing Thepchai Yong: His Lies about iTV


Still wanted: An independent, unbiased TV station

The iTV journalists had their chance to demonstrate their commitment to independent journalism six years ago when 23 of their colleagues were kicked out because they had the courage to stand up to a management bent on interfering with editorial decisions.

Instead, they chose to stand on the sidelines as the "rebels" were axed in what constituted the first open assault on media freedom under the Thaksin government.

And for the next five years, they willingly bent all the journalistic rules to respond to political whims. Gone was the hard-hitting style of news reporting and in-depth news analysis that had earned iTV the reputation of being Thailand's only independent TV station.

He is talking about The Nation Group more than iTV.

So it was an irony that the same iTV journalists rallied at Government House last week to seek assurance from Prime Minister General Surayud Chulanont that the trouble-plagued TV station would be kept free from political or corporate interference. The appeal was made in the face of the prospect that iTV will eventually have to be taken over by the government because its management is not in a position to pay the overdue concession fees and fines amounting to more than Bt98 billion. The staggering amount was calculated on the basis of the damage the government believes was caused by iTV's breach of contract by arbitrarily altering the programming content of the station.

This is where Thepchai Yong starts lying through his teeth. The move to fine iTV should tell you everything that you need to know about the vindictive nature of the Thai people. The fines against iTV have nothing to do with breaking the law and everything to do with destroying a business owned by foreigners. And Thais wonder why foreigners think Thailand is hostile and racist to foreigners. The Junta is deliberately destroying iTV so the government can take it over on the cheap, which is what they will do with all the Singapore owned Shin Group companies.

The iTV journalists have to accept the fact that their reawakening can do little to save the TV station, which was once held up as an example of progressive TV journalism. They should have realised that iTV was doomed as an independent media outlet on the day it was taken over by the Shin Corporation of the Shinawatra family. From that point on, iTV gradually went down the road to become a political tool of the ruling party.

The lesson iTV should have learn is to behave exactly like the liars and hypocrites at The Nation, who chose to cower when Thaksin was prime minister and now is the "political tool" for a military dictatorship.

The plight of the journalists aside, the ongoing debate about iTV now centres on its future as a corporate entity. There is a strong likelihood that it will go under simply because of the huge debt which its major shareholder, Temasek Holdings of Singapore, apparently finds financially impossible to honour. The most likely scenario is that the Prime Minister's Office will have to take back the concession. That much is clear to most people in the government and the bureaucracy.

Exactly. This is how Thais operate. If they can't control it, they will try to destroy it until they can control it again. This is Thai Political Theory 101.

Reclaiming iTV is the easy part. The more difficult question is what to do with it. The Prime Minister's Office, which owns the licence, seems to have no immediate answer. In fact, it is probably lost as how to handle this hot potato.

They will turn into another government mouthpiece just like all other broadcast media.

It is desirable that the PM's Office keeps its hands off iTV. The proposal that it turn iTV into a public TV channel under its supervision is both impractical and counter to the spirit of media reform. The government agency has proven to be big failure when it comes to managing the media. Television Channel 11 and the dozens of radio stations that are owned and operated by the Public Relations Department, which comes under the PM's Office, have been serving less as media in the general sense and more as propaganda tools for the government of the day. So it definitely doesn't deserve to have another addition to its media empire.

iTV has two choices. Be a private government mouthpiece like The Nation or a public mouthpiece like the military owned media.

Whatever the solution eventually arrived at, iTV must go back to its original concept - an independent media outlet. A legacy of the bloody pro-democracy uprising in 1992, iTV was essentially designed to break the state monopoly of the airwaves by becoming a news and current affairs TV station free from political and bureaucratic interference.

Thepchai's hypocrisy is appalling. The Nation has no right to speak for free and independent media.

As it was iTV had a faulty start when its concession was awarded to a consortium spearheaded by Siam Commercial Bank merely because it had made the highest bid, offering the impossible amount of more than Bt20 billion in returns to the state over a period of 30 years.

Thepchai is a liar and doesn't tell you the part about how Thaksin did the Privy Purse owned Siam Commercial Bank a favor and took the money losing iTV station off their hands.

Yes, for iTV to succeed as an independent TV station it has to be privately operated. But the granting of the concession must not again be based on projected financial returns. The determining factor must be its content and the need for the TV station to be more public-minded than profit-oriented.

To safeguard against future interference, a special board comprising respectable and non-partisan figures with credibility must be set up to lay down the basic ground rules and professional ethics that the management and staff of the new TV station must follow. It must also have oversight authority to ensure that these principles are not breached and that the independence of the channel is not encroached upon by either political or business interests.

I am sure the disgraceful Thepchai and Sutichai will volunteer to scrutinize the new non-ideological iTV.

We can be sure that former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra is not going to be the last politician to abuse the media. But if journalists themselves are unable or unwilling to defend their freedom of expression, outside help is definitely needed - not for their sake but for the sake of public interest.

Thepchai Yong

This column is completely disingenuous. I don't know how The Nation columnists look at themselves in the mirror in the morning. It wouldn't be so bad if they published in Thai, because the Thai audience falls for these lies and could care less about media scrutiny, but The Nation has the audacity to lie day after day to an English speaking audience and treat them like fools.

Everything that Thepchai accuses iTV of is exactly what The Nation has become. The Nation Group has no journalistic integrity at all.

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