Panthongtae's Voice TV back on air minus some shows, but Sonthi's ASTV hangs in limbo

national June 21, 2014 00:00

By Pravit Rojanaphruk
The Nation

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More stations are being allowed to go back on air after the military imposed a blanket news blackout right after the May 22 coup.

However, things are not quite the same at Voice TV, at least not when it comes to political coverage.
The TV station has had to remove its popular 7am “Wake Up Thailand” political talk show, and another programme called “Diva Cafe” – known for highly politicised views – has also been lifted. Yet, Voice TV management insists the quality of its programming remains unchanged. 
The television station, owned by former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s son Panthongtae, was allowed to return to air on Sunday.
“It’s no longer the same [Voice TV]. Its original intention and the expected content are gone,” according to a TV co-host, who asked not to be named, who said she chose to decline the offer of hosting a lifestyle show instead of a political one. 
“They said they wanted to do lifestyle programmes, but I only do politics. [They say they] have just stopped the programme until the severe restrictions are lifted,” she said, adding that the station was probably afraid of losing its digital TV licence, which cost several hundred million baht if it airs content deemed to cause “disunity”.
“Our real fans are happy that we’re back on air, but our programmes won’t be as hard-hitting and they will be disappointed. But what else can we do?” she said, adding that the junta will most probably remain in power for two years before it is replaced by an elected government. 
Meanwhile, Voice TV’s direct rival ASTV has not been allowed to go back on air yet, which has upset its founder Sondhi Limthongkul. He protested by releasing photos of himself covering his mouth, eyes and ears. 
An informed source at ASTV, who also asked not to be named, said people’s salaries at the station had been slashed, payments delayed and people were being advised to start “moonlighting” to cover their costs. 
A well-known host from another digital TV station, which has also been affected, said the media would continue to be at the mercy of the military junta for as long as there is no Constitution to guarantee the freedom of expression. 
“It’s like we’re at the edge of a cliff. We don’t know when we will go over. We can only hope for mercy [from the junta],” the host said. 
He went on to say that a good number of TV journalists backed the coup, adding that it was becoming difficult to hold proper political talk shows on television now because many academics and political commentators were hesitant to go on air and speak their minds. 
He said virtually all media outlets had been exercising self-censorship and some censored reports more than what was necessary, to be on the safe side. Asked what he might want to convey to junta leader General Prayuth Chan-ocha, the host felt the junta chief would not listen.
“We should speak up when he’s willing to listen. Right now, his main concern is security,” he said.

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