Broadcasters may be manipulated, experts warn
Non-profit broadcasters could be being manipulated to help create an illusion of legitimacy for the Army chiefs behind the coup, media experts warned yesterday.
"The incident at the Mass Communication Organisation of Thailand (Mcot) was a political game that removed the head in order to fulfil the need of the coup makers. As for the iTV case, we must keep a close watch," said Assoc Prof Ubonrat Siriyuwasak, a lecturer in Communication Arts at Chulalongkorn University.
Ubonrat spoke at a symposium on post-coup media reform. She said broadcast media in the hands of state agencies should be made autonomous, although she doubted such move would occur under the junta.
"No media reform can be achieved as long as the rights to it cannot be snatched away from the elites into the hands of the people."
Pironrong Ramasutr Rananandh, another media expert from Chulalongkorn, said the primary question before pushing for reform should be the question of what an independent TV station should be like.
"The important structure [to touch on] is the relationship between state and broadcast media."
Uajit Virojtrairat, a former lecturer in mass communication at Sukhothai Thammathirat University, said she doesn't trust the Council of National Security's ability to handle media reform.
"Can they keep up with bureaucrats and the bureaucracy?" asked Uajit, adding that the coup leaders seem to also distrust non-government groups who question them.
Uajit said no reform would succeed if people did not believe in their ability to push for reform.
Meanwhile, anti-coup protest leader Sombat Boon-ngam-anong, from the September 19 Network Against the Coup, accused the interim government of politicising the iTV concession-fee issue.
"It's an attempt to suppress iTV and shut down another outlet of alternative news. If not, why did they need to send soldiers to The Nation [TV] and iTV," said Sombat, who added that he saw soldiers still guarding iTV as of Monday, three months after the coup.
"Community radio operators were summoned by the military and allowed to re-broadcast again only after they reported in the spirit of national unity."
Ubonrat said the fact the military was still physically present at iTV and Channel 11 was a concrete sign of military control over the media.
"We may have to issue a statement. It's like chaining the media."
Sombat, whose anti-coup website has been blocked five times and content destroyed, said Army-run TV Channel 5 should be the first to be wrestled out of military control, instead of focusing on iTV alone.
"Then we will see if they're hiding any vested interests of the military or not."
Chavida Vathichai, representing news staff at Channel 9 TV under Mcot, said the public had to realise there was no government that didn't interfere with the media. "Even today, we're being interfered with. I blame both the junta and society."
Speaking on behalf of iTV staff, Chom Petpradab, deputy news editor of the channel, said iTV was just like any other group in society. "If we're under a democratic rule of law, we then enjoy the fruits of democracy. When under a dictatorship, we can't say anything."
Former Bangkok senator Jon Ungphakorn said all media should try to unionise to strengthen themselves against interference - from both media owners and the state. "Even media like The Nation doesn't allow a union," Jon said.