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06BANGKOK1749 TELEVISION IN THAILAND: WHO HOLDS THE LEASH

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“57554”,”3/22/2006 7:45″,”06BANGKOK1747″,”Embassy Bangkok”,”UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,””,”VZCZCXRO7535

PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM

DE RUEHBK #1747/01 0810745

ZNR UUUUU ZZH

P 220745Z MAR 06

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7353

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS

RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI”,”UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001747

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

PACOM FOR FPA HUSO

STATE FOR EAP/PD, IIP

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PHUM, PREL, PGOV, KPAO, TH

SUBJECT: TELEVISION IN THAILAND: WHO HOLDS THE LEASH

REF: A. BKK 01549 – SHIN DEAL LEGAL SO WHAT?

B. BKK 00538 – TEMASEK BUYOUT OF SHIN CORP

C. BKK 01537 – OPPOSITION SELLS

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The RTG has traditionally maintained tight

control over the information presented to the public over the

airwaves. The RTG owns all of the country\’s six television

licenses, although three are licenses to commercial

operators. Reform of broadcast media, though mandated by the

1997 Constitution, has been exceedingly slow in

materializing. Television professionals have practiced

self-censorship under the all-too-real threat of reprisal for

reporting anything overly critical of the government or

powerful pro-government commercial interests. In recent

weeks, we have seen a trend on the part of television news

programs to move beyond self-censorship and present

increasingly balanced coverage of the current political

crisis. Still, it is far too early to tell whether this

newfound freedom is here to stay. END SUMMARY.

WHO OWNS THE AIRWAVES…

————————

2. (SBU) The RTG maintains ownership over all of the

country\’s six free-to-air television licenses. Three of

these licenses are leased out to private companies but, as

the owner, the RTG has the ability to weigh in with the

management to ensure that they are not challenging government

policies or leadership. Below is a list of Thai television

channels and their respective ownership:

LICENSE OWNER Operator

Channel 3 MCOT BEC-Tero

Channel 5 Thai Army Thai Army

Channel 7 Thai Army Bangkok TV

Channel 9 MCOT MCOT

Channel 11 PRD PRD

iTV PM Office Shin

…AND WHO RUNS THEM

——————–

3. (SBU) The two long-standing commercial operators dominate

Thailand\’s prime-time viewership: Bangkok Entertainment

Company (BEC-Tero) operates Channel 3 and can expect five

million viewers most nights; Bangkok TV Company runs Channel

7 which routinely draws over twelve million viewers.

BEC-Tero, in turn, is owned by the Maleenot Family, and one

of the Maleenot\’s is the Minister of Tourism in Prime

Minister Thaksin\’s current Cabinet. Bangkok TV is owned by

the Kanthasut Family, also owners of the Italo-Thai

conglomerate, long-standing Thaksin supporters.

4. (SBU) Thailand\’s other independently-operated station is

iTV, established in 1997, and has around four million

viewers. It is operated by a subsidiary of the now infamous

Shin Corporation (see REFs A and B), owned by the family of

PM Thaksin Shinawatra until March 14 when it was purchased by

Singapore\’s Temasek Holdings. iTV insiders have told PDoff

that Grammy Entertainment, another close ally of the Prime

Minister, is interested in purchasing iTV from Temasek, but

to date there is no clear indication that such a sell-off is

in the works.

5. (SBU) The rest of Thai TV is operated by its respective

owners. Channel 9, which like iTV draws about four million

views, is operated by MCOT (Mass Communication Organization

of Thailand – a state-run enterprise that, although it is now

issuing shares to the public, is still 77 percent owned by

the Ministry of Finance). Channel 11, with about one million

viewers, is directly operated by the Prime Minister\’s Public

Relations Department, and Channel 5, with about two million

viewers, is still very much run by the Army.

CENSORSHIP THAI-STYLE

———————

6. (SBU) PDOFF and POLOFF met with representatives from the

six television stations to discuss a variety of issues

including the role of the RTG in news programming decisions.

Officials at Channel 5 and 11 made no bones about the fact

that programming decisions are made by senior military and

government officials in charge of the station. While

managers at the other four stations maintained that there is

no direct interference from the government in determining

news content, all agreed that an unwritten understanding

exists of what is and is not permissible.

BANGKOK 00001747 002 OF 002

7. (SBU) Producers at all three commercial stations confirmed

that self-imposed censorship is maintained by the tacit

threat of reprisal. TV hosts and producers who dare to cross

over the invisible line have routinely lost their airtime or

faced exile to some forgotten corner of the newsroom. These

producers speculated that powerful commercial interests with

ties to the government influence programming decisions by

threatening to pull advertisements and cut into revenues.

8. (SBU) One producer confirmed that stations occasionally

receive phone calls and even letters from the PM\’s Public

Relations Department suggesting that certain stories be

dropped or treated softly. When the anti-Thaksin movement

was principally led by Sondhi Limthongkul, the producer said

a government official called his station to \”encourage\” them

to play down the story. Several sources said that in the

past they had been told by management to stop investigating a

story that could damage commercial prospects of advertisers,

such as reports of toxic contamination in instant noodles and

shampoo.

REFORM ON THE SLOW TRACK

————————

9. (U) The 1997 Constitution mandated broadcast media reform

by calling for the reallocation of TV (and radio) frequencies

to the public, private, and community sectors. It further

mandated the establishment of an independent National

Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to oversee this distribution

and supervise the broadcast industry.

10. (SBU) Eight years later and implementation of these

reforms is still pending. In September 2005, the Senate put

forward a list of seven nominees for the NBC. Almost

immediately, media advocates and professionals in the field

questioned the nominees\’ independence, noting their close

ties to the government, military or established entertainment

industry. To date, the nominees have not been formally

appointed and, thus, the NBC has yet to be officially formed.

11. (SBU) At the same time, the draft

constitutionally-mandated Radio and Television Broadcasting

Bill continues to be mired in Parliament. An article

stipulating that any technician, announcer or host must

receive a license of operation from the RTG is one of the

principle roadblocks. Critics claim that the article is a

draconian measure designed to provide a governmental

screening process for media professionals.

TESTING, TESTING, 1, 2, 3

————————-

12. (SBU) As the campaign to oust PM Thaksin continues to

gain momentum, the Thai broadcast media has become

increasingly bold in its coverage of the anti-government

movement (see REF C). With the exception of Channel 11

(which is run out of the PM\’s office) all TV stations have

made unprecedented efforts to cover anti-Thaksin activities.

Media observers attribute this shift partly to a drive to

increase ratings, and partly to the fact that the

anti-Thaksin protests have simply gotten too big for the

broadcast media to ignore.

THE TELEVISION MAY NOT BE REVOLUTIONIZED

—————————————-

13. (SBU) COMMENT. Two months ago, we would not have

anticipated the remarkable shift that has occurred in

televised news coverage. Despite the government\’s complete

control of the broadcast media\’s licenses, journalists and

talk show hosts continue to press the boundary — offering

coverage that recently would have been unthinkable. To date,

the TV stations have not moved to crack down. In contrast,

the only talk show hosts to be fired recently were two

virulently pro-government commentators who were canned for

making disparaging remarks about much revered Privy Council

President Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda.

15. (SBU) Nevertheless, it is far too early to tell whether

this move away from self-censorship will endure. So far, the

media has been testing the waters on a single issue, the

anti-Thaksin movement and the political crisis that it has

generated. Admittedly, this is a huge story but it will

eventually come to an end. And when it does, whatever

government replaces the current caretaker administration will

still own the airwaves.

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

June 13, 2011 at 2:20 am

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  1. […] TELEVISION IN THAILAND: WHO HOLDS THE LEASH (Mar 2006): 13. (SBU) COMMENT. Two months ago, we would not have anticipated the remarkable shift […]


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