NBTC urged to safeguard public
Scholars and civil-society groups have expressed concern that the broadcasting regulator's process for selecting 12 public digital TV operators could violate the spirit of media reform unless there is sufficient public accountability and participation, a forum was told.This issue was raised yesterday at a public forum on consumer protection and the transition to the digital terrestrial TV era, organised by the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).
Warakorn Sarmkoses, social critic, education expert and president of Dhurakij Pundit University, said that to protect the public interest, the NBTC should allow trusted public figures such as civil-society leader Pravej Wasri to take part in the upcoming "beauty contest" for 12 public digital TV licences. Under a beauty contest, applicants set out their cases for being awarded licences on the basis of the criteria laid out in the invitation to bid.
"The watchdog should make a priority of educating the public on the importance and impact of digital terrestrial TV before the process is up and running," Warakorn said.
Besides ensuring public participation in the selection process, the NBTC must also make rules and set specifications for the beauty contest that are clear to the public, the forum was told.
Suwanna Sombatraksasook, president of the News Broadcasting Council and director of Chulalongkorn Radio Station, said the licensing process for public TV channels lacks important details such as clear definitions, and the obligations and guidelines to be faced by new public TV operators.
Meanwhile, Uaajit Virojtriratt, director of the Media Monitor project under the Foundation of Media Studies, told the forum that without such participation to protect the public interest, the selection process of public TV operators would mean nothing and run counter to the intention of media reforms called for in the Act on Organisations to Assign Radio Frequency and to Regulate the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Services BE 2553 (2010).
In the morning session, civil-society group expressed disappointment at the NBTC's role in consumer-rights protection, in both the telecom and broadcasting sectors.
"The NBTC appears to be inactive in solving particular complaints involving the telecom giants," said Boonyuen Siritham, chairman of the Confederation of Consumer Organisations.
She said the NBTC must also stress the Consumer Protection Act BE 2522 (1979) as well as the telecom and broadcasting laws, to protect consumers.
Duenden Nikomborirak, a scholar at the Thailand Development Research Institute and member of the sub-panel on consumer rights protection for the telecom sector, said the NBTC's public complaints management department had insufficient staff to cope with the huge number of complaints it receives each year.
Duenden added that this department must handle more than 5,000 complaints raised by local mobile users, excluding those complaints relating to the broadcasting sector, every year. The situation seemed to get worse after the NBTC prepared Bt15 million for this department, which currently has 45 employees, Duenden said.