Pending ruling on Thai TV lawsuit halts govt move; case considered important precedent.
THE SUPREME Administrative Court has upheld a lower court’s injunction barring the government from seizing a Bt1.63 billion bank guarantee provided by Thai TV Co.
The injunction depends on a ruling on the former digital TV licence holder’s lawsuit against the National Broadcasting and Telecom Commission (NBTC), which sought to seize the guarantee.
The court ruled yesterday that the NBTC could not exercise its right at this stage to seize the funds guaranteed by Bangkok Bank on behalf of Thai TV, according to a press release by the Administrative Court.
More than a year ago, Thai TV pulled the plug on two digital TV stations, whose licences were granted by the NBTC, due to heavy losses. The company earlier filed a lawsuit against the NBTC for failing to meet its obligations to provide public access to the new digital TV channels, particularly in its failure to give away coupons for free equipment to enable consumers to receive the stations’ signals.
In addition, the firm said the NBTC had not expanded the broadcasting infrastructure to cover audiences nationwide as had been announced prior to the bidding for digital TV licences. A total of 24 digital TV licences were awarded by the NBTC in a competitive bidding process.
Thai TV, which had operated the “Thai TV” and “Loca” channels, also said the NBTC’s public relations campaigns to promote awareness about the new digital TV stations had not been effective, resulting in the initial low number of viewers and a negative impact on the licensees’ business models.
However, the NBTC said it had the right to seize the guaranteed funds because Thai TV had violated conditions in its licence agreements signed with the agency.
The court found that there had not been a ruling yet on which party had violated the licence agreements so the NBTC had no authority to claim the guaranteed funds since such an act would be equivalent to a ruling that the private firm was guilty.
Thai TV successfully bid for the licence to operate a news channel at a price of Bt1.328 billion, while another licence for a children’s channel cost Bt648 million.
Due to heavy losses, the firm decided to stop broadcasting and returned both licences to the NBTC on November 1, 2015, prompting the NBTC to attempt to exercise its right to seize the funds guaranteed for both channels.
According to the court’s statement, it was clear that Thai TV no longer operated the two digital TV stations under the NBTC-issued licences so the court would have to make a judgement on the pending lawsuit at a later stage.
However, the state agency will be empowered to seize the funds only if Thai TV is ruled to be the guilty party.
The Thai TV case is expected to set a precedent for other digital TV licensees. Several licensees have reported dismal business performance and expressed an interest to return the licences to the NBTC.