Fears digital licences to go to agencies
As the licensing of public digital terrestrial TV channels is drawing closer, local broadcasters, civil groups and academics yesterday raised fears that those licences seem to be reserved for the same state agencies that now hold analogue frequencies.The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) will welcome civil organisations, state agencies, foundations and other non-profit organisations to join a beauty contest for public digital terrestrial TV channels.
The NBTC's broadcasting committee has not yet finished the details on the proper specifications and conditions for this beauty contest, which is expected to begin in May.
Without any clear signs of progress, academics in communications arts and professionals in the broadcasting industry called for public participation in the licensing procedure at a seminar on the future of public digital TV broadcasting organised by the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association and the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand.
Supaporn Phokaew, head of the mass communications department at Chulalongkorn University, said the broadcasting regulator should conduct research into this issue first as it could have a big impact on the public.
Adisak Limprungpatanakij, president of Nation Broadcasting Corp, said the NBTC should allow parties from both the public and private sectors to take part in this process, such as via a public hearing, for the sake of transparency and integrity.
However, the NBTC's broadcasting committee seems to make the granting of public digital terrestrial TV licences to public agencies that need to have their own television stations its first priority.
"If non-profit organisations, foundations and civil associations want to enter a beauty contest for public TV licences, they must work harder on their proposals to convince the broadcasting panel to agree with their wishes," said Natee Sukonrat, chairman of the broadcasting committee.
This did not mean that all state agencies applying for this beauty contest can obtain licences as they wish.
"If we find that there's no obligation or need to provide a public TV broadcasting service, they will go home without any licence," he added.
The NBTC is making available 12 digital TV channels for public service, aiming for offer more windows for existing public TV broadcasters as well as new civil organisations like public universities, ministries and other departments to have a chance to have a communications channel to the people.
The 12 public digital terrestrial TV channels are divided into three categories. The first is for educational, arts and cultural, agricultural, science, religion and social promotion. This kind of TV broadcaster is allowed to earn limited income from selling airtime for advertisements. The only TV commercials allowed are for corporate image. Those for products and services are prohibited.
The second group is for national security and disaster warning and prevention. Broadcasters can sell air slots for commercials to cover their running costs but not to make a profit. The Army's TV 5 reportedly aims to obtain this kind of licence. The third is for the government's public relations and communications and for democracy promotion. Potential bidders include the Public Relations Department's Channel 11 and Parliament TV stations.
But operating a public TV channel will not be easy because each public TV broadcaster must commit to producing and airing their programmes under the NBTC's provisions. News/ information and documentary programmes must account for more than 70 per cent of all airtime slots while the rest can be entertainment programmes. By complying with this condition, those TV broadcasters can get an annual licence fee cut.
Normally, under the licence-based regime, all TV broadcasters must pay 2 per cent of their revenue for an annual licence and 2 per cent for the NBTC's Research and Development Fund.