Friday, May 15, 2009

Abhisit's Right-Hand Man Sathit Wongnongtoey Changes Tune on Control of the Media

Bangkok Post interviewing Sathit back in April:

Prime Minister's Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey has been in charge of the state media for almost three months and as a relative newcomer been criticised for not using the state's media instruments at his disposal to neutralise the offensive of the red-shirt protesters, particularly their leader Thaksin Shinawatra, against the government.

During the past week, his passive role in responding to attacks on the government by former prime minister Thaksin even drew comments from Chuan Leekpai, the party's chief adviser.

Here Mr Sathit tells Bangkok Post chief reporter Nattaya Chetchotiros why he opted for a non-confrontational approach.

How did you explain things to Mr Chuan who was under the impression that you did too little to stop Thaksin phoning in to his supporters almost every day? As it happens, Thaksin has been hogging the media spotlight.

Sathit: Actually, Mr Chuan did not blame me. He just passed on the feedback he received. Mr Chuan and Prime Minister Abhisit (Vejjajiva) have given me moral support. They know that we are on the right track. We can't just let one person make us veer off course.

Is this because the Democrat party had been in the opposition for eight years. When it becomes the government, it finds itself floundering and does not know what to do. And are you seen as a newcomer?

Sathit: I am aware of such a feedback. But I follow the policy that Prime Minister Abhisit has laid down since he took office. We will not sow a social conflict and we will not respond to Thaksin.

But as he keeps phoning in, we need to adjust our approach by allowing ministers or those who were accused by Thaksin to explain themselves to the public.

Could you explain your pro-active policy in concrete terms?

Sathit: We hold regular meetings of public relations officials and directors of regional branches of Channel 11 via video conference.

We stress the need for public relations officials in each province to tell people the government's primary aim is to solve the economic crisis. The government will neither use the media as a political tool nor use force against protesters.

What did the prime minister say to you when you came under heavy criticism?

Sathit: He has always given me moral support. We know that people wanted us to hit back at Thaksin. But we don't want to.

You mean you will remain on the receiving end?

Sathit: We have to adjust to suit the changing circumstances. We have to work hard to explain the allegations he is making against the government.

Have you ever felt that you are not in full control of the media, even though you are the minister in charge of looking after the media?

Sathit: Our approach in looking after the media is different from that of the Thaksin government. The Thaksin government had interfered with the media and dictated to them to make them serve its needs.

But we choose not to do so. Instead, we seek cooperation and are taking a more relaxed approach.

Why has Chirmsak Pinthong, who is known to have aligned himself with the anti-Thaksin People's Alliance for Democracy, been allotted only one hour of airtime a week on Channel 11. Is this meant to avoid criticism?

Sathit: No, we are not concerned about criticism. We can't afford to think the same way as the previous government which was allotting airtime to the Truth Today programme five days a week. It would be easy for us to do the same. But that would mean we too are paying lip service to our media reform idea.

Bangkok Post Editorial:

The request on Wednesday for permission to govern the content of every community radio and satellite TV station was sensational by any standard. The NTC was charged by the 1997 Constitution to return the public airwaves to the public. Now, the commission proposes to place a whole new set of public broadcasters under its control, including monitoring and censoring the broadcasts themselves.

The regulations are only a proposal by the NTC. It is disturbing that the government has apparently leapt to support the commission's request, without any public input or parliamentary discussion.

The country has the word of PM's Office Minister Sathit Wongnongtoey that the NTC would never overstep its responsibility, and only would take action if broadcasters used "politically incendiary" statements.

Mr Sathit had no examples of what might be incendiary speech, and neither did the proposal from the NTC to the government for permission to start monitoring right away. Mr Sathit said he was certain the NTC would be even-handed in its treatment of both the ASTV satellite broadcasts by the yellow-shirt supporters, and DStation backed by the United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship (UDD) and the red shirts. If either or both were judged to have incendiary content, they would be taken off the air. The same would hold true for all community radio stations.

These proposed regulations are onerous and will be opposed by all advocates of free speech and a free press. They are nothing less than political pressure on new broadcast media to exert fearful self-censorship. According to the government, they require every such "new media" broadcaster to get prior permission from the regulators before they begin any programme. This is not only intimidation of the worst sort, it is clearly impractical. Under these regulations, any media under NTC control would have to wait for permissio to comment on current events - in other words, neither news nor comment on the news would evnen be legal.

Both Mr Sathit and the NTC should withdraw these poorly thought-out proposals. The NTC should start again, and redraft regulations that reflect its founding purpose, which is to ensure that all segments of the public have access to the broadcast media. The government, starting with Mr Sathit's office, should also rethink its stand, beginning from the premise that the constitution - the supreme law of the land - guarantees full press freedom and forbids prior censorship of any kind.

Mr Sathit and the NTC have failed totally to explain why new and special content regulations are required at all. There are plenty of laws to keep broadcasting civil. Treason is illegal, just for example, as are defamation and inciting to riot. These laws seem more than enough to keep a civil tongue in the head of all broadcasters.

If these two offices properly reconsider the issues of community radio and satellite TV, they will realise these are democratic outlets which must be allowed greater freedom, not given more shackles. They must not be tied up in bureaucratic regulation and government attempts to censor. Technical regulations are necessary so that community radio stations can broadcast on limited frequencies, and not interfere with neighbours in the province or on the assigned frequency. No special regulations are needed by the NTC to govern content, and none should be given.

First, Abhisit wants to use the intelligence agencies and secret slush fund tax payer money to crush anti-government dissent. Now, he want to filter anti-government content on the community radio and television stations.

The Nation's editorial silence is deafening.

Abhisit is no longer Thailand's Barack Obama. He is now Thailand's Richard Nixon, but only worse.

Nixon didn't get away with his crimes; Abhisit will.


Anonymous said...

"Abhisit is no longer Thailand's Barack Obama. He is now Thailand's Richard Nixon, but only worse.

Nixon didn't get away with his crimes; Abhisit will."

Abhisit is gonna become news analyst - Fonzi, you gonna be without work soon ! :)

"He also promised to ensure that government officials do not restrict the right of the media on presenting news, saying the media was a mirror that reflected how the government was. This right however did not include provocation of the mass such as political demonstrations that allowed the use of weapons, said Mr. Abhisit.

The prime minister said a law for protection of the media was unlikely to come into place anytime soon, but initiation was needed and parliament would discuss this law."

maverick263 said...

thx to both of you, Fonzi & antipadshist. i've been looking for somebody to profile sathit & put media-strategy into perspective. thx!

Anonymous said...

Abhisit is probably like Obama and that's what's so scary about this - for both the US and Thailand.

Picture perfect, little substance, tuned in on liberal academic thinking but little real-world knowledge, power hungry, self righteous, naive, ignorant of the little man, etc.

What Thailand need is a Ronald Reagan - and he comes in the shape of Thaksin!