Cablegate: Titv: The Bbc-Ification of Thailand's "Independent"
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #2407/01 1192321
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 292321Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 6530
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 3495
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 002407
DEPT PLEASE PASS EAP/PD (Davies), EAP/MLS, DRL, IIP/G/EAP EMILY
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PREL PHUM PGOV KPAO TH
SUBJECT: TiTV: The BBC-ification of Thailand's "Independent"
REF: BANGKOK 01203 and previous
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1. (SBU) Summary: The Thai cabinet has decided to re-establish
TiTV, the TV station seized from Shin Corp., as a public television
station in the image of BBC or PBS. Station staffers are concerned
that the move will lead to a reduction in salaries and production
quality, while former station executives and shareholders are
threatening law suits. Some of the media experts charged with
drafting the laws to establish a public television station are
requesting assistance from the Embassy in the form of a DVC with an
American public television expert. End summary.
2. (SBU) On April 24, 2007, the Thai Cabinet announced its intention
to turn iTV -- now renamed TiTV or Thailand Independent Television
-- into a commercial-free "public" station. TiTV, seized by the
government in February from Shin Corp., had proved impossible to
sell after the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) refused to renegotiate
massive fines assessed on the station following the coup. (Note:
See reftels for more detail. Shin Corp. was the company sold by
deposed Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to Singapore's Temasek.
The fines were the result of a 2006 court order which invalidated a
2004 arbitration court decision drastically reducing the station's
licensing fees. End note.)
3. (SBU) PMO Minister Dhipavadee Meksawan said the new public
broadcast station will be run by professional broadcasters, not
government officials. She proposed a special earmarked tax to fund
the station's operations in order to prevent political and corporate
editorial interference. The PMO expects to finish a draft law
establishing the public station by May 11, for forwarding to the
National Legislative Assembly (NLA).
4. (SBU) The Cabinet decision to make TiTV a public station resulted
from heavy pressure from prominent Thai mass communication academics
who hope to turn TiTV into something resembling BBC or PBS. These
pundits see American and English public broadcasters as good models
for media free of government interference.
Opposition from within TiTV
5. (SBU) TiTV staff, used to high private-sector salaries and a
modern corporate work environment, is not pleased with the decision.
One news editor told PDoff that many production professionals,
especially those in the news department, felt uncomfortable about
the prospect of working in a government bureaucracy. He thought
that TiTV would never become a true public station, and would
instead morph into something akin to state-owned government
mouthpiece Channel 11.
6. (SBU) A manager at the station noted other possible problems.
TiTV's operating costs are extremely high. Currently, even with
advertisements the station was running at a loss and staff had not
been paid since March. He thought it was inevitable that the
production quality and salaries had to fall. He also said that
making TiTV a public company would eliminate many jobs, including
sales staff, marketers, and other business-related positions.
Court Cases Continue
7. (SBU) At the annual shareholders' meeting on April 23, former iTV
executives vowed to sue the PMO. They alleged that when iTV was
seized, the PMO had failed to inform the cabinet that iTV and the
PMO had a long-standing agreement that justified the original
concession fee reduction. (Note: The agreement had allowed iTV to
renegotiate its concession fees if the market changed substantially,
which the former executives argue happened which state-run Channel
11 began accepting advertisements. End note.)
8. (SBU) Separately, a group claiming to represent 9,000 individual
investors said it would file a complaint against the PMO and the
Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) for failing to suspend
trading in iTV shares after the high court ruling.
7. (SBU) TiTV's final form remains far from certain. Disgruntled
staff, irate shareholders, and lengthy court cases all bode poorly
for a quick and tidy resolution to the station's status.
8. (SBU) Thai academics and media-law drafters are very interested
in determining whether a public television station could really be
independent, and if so how to craft the law to ensure this
independence. The PMO has asked the Embassy to provide a DVC
BANGKOK 00002407 002.2 OF 002
program with an American public television expert (request septel)
in order to discuss some of the nuts and bolts of setting up a truly
independent public television station.