STATION OFF THE AIR
iTV's last hope hinges on court
Public Relations Dept being primed to run station as govt vows to return it to the airwaves
The mood in iTVís newsroom turns gloomy as staff digest the bad news.
The embattled iTV station went off air immediately after midnight last night pending the Council of State's interpretation as to whether the Public Relations Department (PRD) can take over and operate the station, which has failed to pay more than Bt100 billion in debts to the PM's Office.
The station's last hope now depends largely on how the Central Administrative Court is going to decide on its case today.
In a last-ditch effort, iTV staff yesterday petitioned the court asking for an injunction against the decision by the PM's Office to temporarily close down the station.
It remains unclear whether the injunction - if granted - will be able to take effect before the Council of State's ruling comes out.
"We don't have any intention to close down iTV for weeks or months. If the Council of State issues a ruling sooner than Friday, iTV can re-open very soon," PM's Office Minister Khunying Dhipavadee Meksawan said yesterday.
The Council of State is expected to make its ruling on Friday and the PRD hopes to re-open iTV by Saturday.
The reopening can only take place if the Council of State agrees that the PRD can take over iTV and that the PRD is ready.
By yesterday evening, the PM's Office had already appointed a human-resources guru - Chira Hongladarom - as the project manager of Thai Independent Television or TITV, the new name for iTV.
Just after midnight, equipment was moved out of the iTV office at the Shinawatra III Building to an old vacant building of the PRD.
If iTV is to re-open under the PRD, it will have to share the PRD-run Channel 11 studios.
Today, Chira and PRD director-general Pramoj Rathavinij will also have discussions with private companies that had contracts with iTV.
Dhipavadee went ahead with the decision to close down iTV after the Cabinet yesterday gave the nod for her office to proceed as deemed appropriate.
Following the Cabinet meeting yesterday, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont explained that his Cabinet had reviewed the information relating to the iTV saga and decided to proceed by law.
Earlier, Surayud had said iTV staff would not suffer any adverse impacts. But upon hearing the Cabinet's decision yesterday, many iTV reporters broke down in tears.
"If I have said anything that was not possible under the law before this, I would like to apologise here. I don't have any hidden intention. I have just hoped to see the uninterrupted operations of the media. However, if the continuation causes legal complications, I have to stand by legally justified moves," the premier said.
Dhipavadee said the temporary closedown was in the best interests of the country, because if iTV failed to pay its debts, it would become the property of the Office of the Prime Minister which had granted iTV the concession to operate.
"We have to carefully check the property that will have to be transferred to us. We have to review up to 446 contracts iTV has made with other companies," Dhipavadee said.
She said her office should have the mandate to assign the PRD to operate the beleaguered station.
"But to ensure full compliance with the law, we are going to consult with the Council of State first," Dhipavadee said.
Meanwhile, Dhipavadee denied allegations that she pushed for the temporary closedown of iTV because Sondhi Limgthongkul of Manager Group threatened to expose a scandal involving herself and US$40 million (Bt1.3 billion).
"There's no relation," she said.
The Council of State's secretary general Pornthip Jala said her agency would urgently review the legal aspects of the iTV case.
"We will pass the ruling as soon as possible," she said.
Pornthip said the Council of State's ruling would be just a legal interpretation, which the premier or the Cabinet had to review before making any further decision.