BANGKOK The Thai military government has taken editorial control of Thailand Independent Television, the network formerly known as iTV that was forced into bankruptcy last year and then brought under the state wing.
The net is now on course to become the country’s first commercial-free pubcaster.
Acting on a Cabinet ruling last year, the government Jan. 15 shut down TITV’s signal, replacing its programming with documentaries about Princess Galyani Vadhana, who died recently.
On the same day, the Cabinet approved the creation of a five-member panel, made up of scholars and a former editor of the Nation newspaper, to oversee operation of TITV’s successor, Thailand Public Broadcasting Service (TPBS).
Though technically it will be an independent agency, TPBS will be fully funded by the state. Former university lecturer Kwansuang Atipodhi has been picked to head the panel.
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It is understood that TPBS will receive between 1.5 million baht and 1.7 billion baht ($51 million-$58 million) for its first year budget. Atipodhi says the station will be ready to go on air Feb. 1 with news and educational programs.
Meanwhile, the future of TITV’s 800 staffers is uncertain. They have lodged a complaint against what they perceive as an unlawful blackout order.
Prominent TV producers are also considering taking legal action against the government’s Public Relations Department alleging breach of contract. The department had previously said TITV would continue on air until March.
iTV was launched in 1995, three years after the previous coup, by investors who wanted to create a channel free of government influence, dedicated to fair and balanced news. Five years later Shin Corp., a giant telco owned by the family of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, bought a large portion of iTV shares. In 2006, the Shinawatra family sold its 49.6% stake to Singaporean sovereign wealth fund Temasek Holdings. But that did not stop it being pursued by a regime trying to remove any remaining traces of Shinawatra” influence.
After a legal dispute about its license fee, the net was saddled with fines exceeding $3.4 billion and, when it could not pay, last year it was ordered to stop broadcasting. That led to the transformation to TITV.
General elections were held in December, but a new government headed by Shinawatra supporters has yet to take power.