THE CONSTITUTION Drafting Commission’s decision to move provisions on air “frequencies” from the chapter on “Rights and Liberty of Thai Citizens” to the “Directive Principles of State Policy’’ has raised fears that the government plans to usurp management
The frequencies safeguards have been a staple of the rights chapter since the last two charters of 1997 and 2007. The country’s supreme law had ensured that the frequencies used for television and radio broadcasts and telecommunications belonged to the Thai people.
The protection was the fruit of the long struggle of the media and telecommunications industries plus pro-democracy enthusiasts that fought to liberate those industries from state control so that people could enjoy the same freedom of expression as in developed democratic countries.
Critics harboured doubts over the government’s intentions in changing the nature of frequencies to “state’s assets” instead of “public assets”. This would put frequencies for broadcast and telecommunications come under state control again.
Kamnoon Sidhisamarn, a member of the National Reform Steering Assembly, wrote on Facebook that the fight to ensure that the public – not the government – owns the frequencies dates back to May 1992 when the broadcast media, which was then controlled by the state, blocked news and information about the pro-democracy protests.
The problem now was that under the rights chapter, Thai citizens would continue to enjoy such rights and liberties when the charter takes effect, but under the state policy chapter, the principles would be realised only when the government implements the policies.
“It’s not clear when that would happen as it will depend on many factors,’’ he said. Another significant move made by the CDC was changing the status of the agency overseeing frequencies – the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) – from being “an independent agency” to “an agency that has freedom in carrying out duties”.
“The change likely affects the independence of the NBTC by becoming an agency under the supervision of the Digital Economy Board,’’ he said.
CDC spokesman Norachit Sinhaseni admitted that provisions on frequencies had been moved but said the change was not yet finalised.
The government had no mind to take control and ownership of the nation’s frequencies.
The NBTC would still allocate spectra and the public and the media would continue to enjoy freedom of expression.
Neither the government nor the National Council for Peace and Order had ordered the CDC to make such changes for security reasons as alleged, he added.
Pirongrong Ramasoota, a communication arts lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, said the change would let the state take governance and possession of frequencies.
The framers of the 1997 charter had debated at length on whether frequencies were national resources or public resources.
Then they decided to go for “national resources for the public interest”, she said.
Former charter drafter Manij Suksomjit said that if the CDC decides to write that frequencies are resources of the state, then the public would have to see if the state means the country or the government.
“If the state means the government, frequencies would belong to the government. It would be a pity that we would go back to square one,’’ he said.
NBTC member Supinya Klangnarong was worried that the CDC’s move was a step backward.
“We took almost two decades to achieve media reform and for the media to enjoy liberty and freedom from state control.
“It’s a joke to start all over again and debate to whom the frequencies belong. I hope we will not have to go through the epic drama – ‘who owns frequencies?’ – again’’.
Lowdown on frequencies
The 1997 Constitution and 2007 Constitution
– Frequencies are under the “Rights and Liberty of Thai Citizens” chapter.
– Frequencies are the national communication resources for public interest.
– The NBTC is the independent agency tasked with allocating frequencies.
The new charter draft
– Frequencies are under the “Directive Principles of State Policy”' chapter.
– Frequencies are state assets.
– The NBTC is the agency that would put frequencies into use.