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Thai government gets to keep iTV after all

Updated On: Mar 09, 2007

The Thai government took over the iTV station after it failed to pay the S$4.27 billion dollars in court-ordered fines and back fees.

The station was bought last year by Singapore's Temasek Holdings, as part of its politically explosive purchase of Thai telecom giant Shin Corp.

PM Surayad promised the staff that the “station” will keep running” but then came the shock and disappointment on Tuesday (6 March) that iTV would shut down and stop broadcasting.  But in another “flip flop” that seemed to have become the hallmark of the interim government, perhaps reflecting the rift within, PM Surayad was again “forced” to reverse the decision when “staff members petitioned the court to issue an injunction against the decision by the PM's Office”, the Nation reported.

The Council of State has since ruled that the Public Relations Department (PRD) has the legal authority to run station. Surayud wasted no time in ordering that “the channel be allowed to continue broadcasting without interruption”, thus managing to uphold his earlier pledge to iTV staff.

However, as the 1000-odd iTV staff heave a sigh of relief at keeping their jobs, iTV will now be called TITV. PRD director-general Pramoj Rathavinij told the media, “We are 100 per cent ready [to continue]. iTV staff will produce the content, and we will broadcast it.” As to manpower issues, Pramoj added, “We're willing to continue hiring iTV staff. It will be as if the PRD hires iTV to produce programmes. For companies having contracts with iTV, the PRD will replace iTV as the contract party”. Additionally, “salaries and welfare benefits would remain the same but that they would become employees of the PRD”, the Nation noted.

Not all Thais are happy with the arrangement though. Chat Thai Party leader Banharn Silapaarcha told the Nation that “iTV staff should demand an explanation and compensation from their management, not the government”.

As the financing of the TV station is a touchy issue, Somkiat Tangkitvanich, director of the Thailand Development Research Institute, has suggested that “the government could issue a Royal Enactment to support iTV becoming an independent station based on the British Broadcasting Corp (BBC) model”. Concerned that PRD’s management of iTV would be damaging to the latter, Somkiat said “the government had to enact the law as fast as possible”. He has already “submitted the draft of the independent TV station act to the government” a couple of months ago.

In the larger Thai context, Surayud’s government is being pressed to work harder and faster. The Bangkok Post has already come out to announce that the people are losing hope in the government’s ability. And a further sign that not all is going well, the man tasked with running iTV, renamed as TITV under the arm of the prime minister’s office, quit his job on Thursday (8 March), after less than 24 hours, saying he had become the target of political attacks.

But perhaps this should be the least of the Thai people’s concerns, if indeed a counter-coup is on the cards.

The Bangkok Post has reported assistant army chief Gen. Saprang Kalayanamitr as saying that “a military coup should never be ruled out as… a military takeover is about cause and effect”. He reiterated that with national interest being top priority, “[and] if the country plunges into a crisis, a coup can always happen.” However, he defended his words by adding, “I don't say this because I want to stage a coup… Everything falls under the [law] of cause and effect. A coup will take place if there is a cause and that cause is justified.”  As to the alleged tensions within the CNS, Gen. Saprang declared “his relations with CNS chief and army commander Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratkalin had never been better”.

Gen. Sonthi has also quashed any talk of tensions and counter-coup. The Bangkok Post reported, “No. No. Everything is okay.”

On bilateral issues with Singapore, suspicions of the nation-state continue unabated. According to the Nation, Defence Minister Boonrawd Somtas has come out to deny that “Singapore's air force was allowed to exploit the use of a military airport in Udon Thani to spy on Thailand's neighbours” as “all exercises were carried out under the close supervision of the Royal Thai Air Force”.

But perhaps one piece of news that will finally make the Thais “smile” is that Singapore investment firm, Temasek is close to selling some shares in telecoms group ShinCorp to Thai investors.  (8 March 2007)

Sources:

Temasek close to selling Shin Corp shares (Straits Times Interactive, 8 March 2007)

Thai TV director quit a day after taking over station (Straits Times Interactive, 8 March 2007)

iTV gets 11th-hour reprieve (Nation, 8 March 2007)

TITV 'should be like' the BBC (Nation, 8 March 2007)

Concern over flight training by Singapore (Nation, 8 March 2007)

People losing hope in govt's capability (Bangkok Post, 8 March 2007)

Council of State rules PRD can run iTV  (Bangkok Post, 8 March 2007)

Sonthi says no conflict with Saprang  (Bangkok Post, 8 March 2007)

Military coups 'should never be ruled out' (Bangkok Post, 8 March 2007)