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Digital television plan gets mixed response from experts

Experts differ on how the upcoming introduction of digital television, with the number of public-service channels rising, will affect people's access to political news and their political awareness.

Of those interviewed, the most optimistic person was Supinya Klangnarong, a member of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission, while media experts including Ubonrat Siriyuwasak, former communication-arts lecturer at Chulalongkorn University, offered words of caution.

Supinya said that of the 24 new channels, 12 would be geared towards public service, with up to 70 per cent of their content focusing on news and information. This would widen the competition and lead to greater diversity, she said.

What's more, satellite television stations that focus on Thai politics could become mainstream if they win a licence, and thus make television news and reporting more daring and diverse, she added.

"So far, free TV stations have been far too conservative, while satellite-based channels have been very colourful [politically]. The transformation of satellite TV to free TV could mean greater diversity and more daring coverage. It will reflect diverse viewpoints in society and stimulate the thought process in Thai society, so discussions will become deeper and more widespread," Supinya said.

However, she added, it might take five or even 10-15 years for this change to shape new political consciousness in Thai society. On the other hand, heavily politicised satellite television channels will also be encouraged to become more mainstream-oriented when they win the concession.

In comparison, Ubonrat was a lot less optimistic, saying the big old media corporations would most likely win the licences to be auctioned this year and viewers would not necessarily see more investigative reporting or critical news than what they already do. Instead, she warned, they will most probably be given more soap-opera choices.

However, she believes foreign news coverage, especially in the Asean region, could improve greatly.

"[New] technology is no guarantee for greater knowledge," Ubonrat stressed, adding that the digital TV landscape in the next five to 10 years would continue to be partially monopolised by big businesses, while old players on free TV would continue to maintain an edge for at least five years. "Ordinary folk will continue to consume mainstream media content," Ubonrat predicted.

Naruemon Tabchumpol, Chulalongkorn University political scientist, said radical satellite TV channels could become more mainstream-oriented if they joined the digital-television bandwagon. On the other hand, with more choices at hand, people would be less likely to be loyal to one particular channel, which would diminish the power certain channels have.

However, the big question is whether the content will really differ, Naruemon said, adding that digital TV stations will also face the challenge of differentiating rumours and opinions from facts, which is already a problem for Thai media in general.


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