No government intervention in MCOT row
PM's Office Minister Thirapat Serirangsan insisted the government would not intervene in the spreading conflict between the new board of MCOT and its staff amid pressure from the labour union, which yesterday succeeded in turning out staff dressed in black in protest.
"I want MCOT to be developed into a true media outlet, and I believe MCOT does not want political interference. I thus try to limit my role or it would turn out that MCOT is subject to political meddling. The government has a clear policy not to interfere with the media," said Thirapat. "Moreover, MCOT is a company governed by its own board of directors and executives. I must be careful, because I want MCOT to be free of government control."
Yesterday, MCOT employees wore black shirts in protest, and 100 appeared at Government House. They handed out a statement explaining their deep resentment against the new board, led by Pongsak Payakvichien, who is also an executive of Matichon Plc. More than 600 employees signed their names to protest the new board's policy. The union also submitted a petition to Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont.
In the statement, the union said that within 48 hours of the appointment of the new directors, MCOT had been ordered to cover the "Muang Thai" weekly talks by Sondhi Limthongkul every Friday and organise a special three-hour programme to discuss government policies last Friday without advance notice. The statement said Pongsak also planned to change FM Met 107's programming, although MCOT had earlier signed a contract with four global record companies to change the radio station's format to classical music.
"Changing it without notifying the business partners would affect MCOT's international operations in the future," said the statement.
The statement also criticised the meeting between Pongsak and executives from The Nation Group, academics and well-known senators, apparently to allocate Modernine TV's air time during prime time.
"Is such behaviour appropriate? Is the channel open to all producers? That indicated the relationship of Pongsak and those people. Pongsak was also a radio host of Manager Radio."
The statement also criticised Pongsak for remaining an executive at Matichon Plc after becoming MCOT's president even though both companies were listed in the media sector.
Narong Chokwatana, a National Legislative Assembly member and MCOT director, told ASTV the MCOT board would resign only if shareholders said so and that the shareholder here was the Finance Ministry, not the 100 protesters.
"Directors will not tolerate interference from any parties, including the government. If the organisation's independence is not preserved, I would rather resign," he said.
Narong noted that he disagreed with MCOTs privatisation and listing, because listed companies were always profit-oriented and not concerned with social benefits.
Campaign for Democracy secretary-general Suriyasai Katasila commented that the labour union had every right to stage a protest against board policy. He said the government should take the protesters' grievances into consideration, because new executives could create conflicts of interest.
"The government should solve this problem as soon as possible, due to the high public expectations concerning the media, especially government-owned media, in creating a harmonious environment. I know some MCOT staff must have been upset with past policy. Thus, the new board and executives of MCOT should be clear and restore public confidence that there will be no conflicts of interest," he said.
When asked whether there would be conflicts of interest at MCOT, Thirapat dismissed the question, saying he had no information about that.
"I can't guarantee about anyone benefiting from the programming reshuffle. I've constantly received complaints about business conflicts, and I will pass these complaints to the board," said Thirapat.
The MCOT board of directors will convene on Friday, mainly to reconsider the programming. The first board meeting was last Thursday, when Pongsak announced MCOT would be socially oriented rather than profit-oriented. The policy overhaul caused MCOT's share price to drop and has been criticised for undermining investor confidence.