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05BANGKOK6095 TWO MOVES AGAINST THE THAI MEDIA: NEWSPAPER AVOIDS TAKEOVER BUT TV SHOW GETS THE AXE

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“41184”,”9/23/2005 9:57″,”05BANGKOK6095″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”UNCLASSIFIED”,”05BANGKOK5917|05BANGKOK5940″,

 

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

 

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 006095

 

SIPDIS

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PGOV, PHUM, KPAO, PINS, PROP, TH, HUMAN RIGHTS

SUBJECT: TWO MOVES AGAINST THE THAI MEDIA: NEWSPAPER AVOIDS

TAKEOVER BUT TV SHOW GETS THE AXE

 

REF: A. (A) BANGKOK 5940

B. (B) BANGKOK 5917

 

1. (U) SUMMARY. On September 12, Thai entertainment tycoon

Paiboon Damrongchaitham of GMM Grammy shocked Thailand by

attempting a hostile takeover of the Matichon Group, as well as

buying up a large stake in The Bangkok Post (Ref A). Press

freedom advocates, academics and the political opposition

strongly condemned the move, going so far as to threaten a

boycott of Grammy products. Unlike other recent cases of press

intimidation, the story stayed on the front pages of the news

and on September 17, Paiboon agreed to sell back 14 percent of

its newly acquired Matichon shares back to the paper founder.

The Bangkok Post has yet to ward off Paiboon, but may have an

offer from Robert Kuok, the owner of Hong Kong\’s South China

Morning Post, who is close to Beijing. This rare victory for

civil society was tempered somewhat as a popular political TV

program was canceled by a state-run channel on September 15, on

the pretense that the host had made inappropriate remarks by

characterizing the views of the royal family. In his weekly

press conference, PM Thaksin insisted he had not been involved

in either matter. END SUMMARY

 

2. (U) On September 12th, Thai entertainment tycoon Paiboon

Damrongchaitham of GMM Grammy shocked journalists and press

freedom advocates by announcing that he had bought up 32 percent

of the parent company of Matichon and 24 percent of the parent

company of the Bangkok Post (Ref A). He also announced plans to

take over an additional 43 percent of the Matichon Group,

eventually hoping to control 100 percent of company shares.

Paiboon, who is known to be close to PM Thaksin Shinawatra,

alleged the move was purely a business matter and that all media

enterprises under his control would be able to maintain complete

editorial independence. Thai civil society leaders immediately

cried foul, recalling the 2000 takeover of independent TV

station iTV by Shincorp, which resulted in a sharp decrease in

the station\’s critical coverage of the government. [NOTE:

Shincorp is owned by the family of PM Thaksin. END NOTE]

 

3. (U) Press freedom advocates, academics and the political

opposition immediately condemned the purported buyout, with some

even talking of a boycott of Grammy products. After several days

of negative publicity, Paiboon decided the hostile takeover was

more trouble than it was worth and agreed both to refrain from

making further acquisitions of Matichon stock and to sell back

14% of its new shares back to the paper founder Khanchai.

Paiboon still intends to hold on to a 20 percent stake in

Matichon, and GMM Grammy is expected to have a seat on the

company\’s board, leaving the door open for the company and its

allies to potentially wield a fair amount of influence. For this

reason, many are calling on Paiboon to divest himself completely

of shares in both newspapers to prove that he has truly given up

on any ambitions to control the newspaper.

 

PAIBOON BACKS DOWN, MATICHON REVELS IN VICTORY

 

4. (U) Unlike many previous freedom of the press stories, the

takeover of the Thai-language Matichon garnered widespread

national attention and stayed on the front pages of the Thai-

and English-language dailies for several days. Even after

Paiboon agreed to halt his takeover of Matichon, the Thai- and

English-language editorial pages were filled with articles

hailing Grammy\’s retreat as a victory for Thai civil society and

a warning that businesses with political connections were

interested in controlling the nation\’s newspapers. Khanchai

Boonpan, Matichon\’s founder, and the Thai press have been seen

as the biggest winners after the botched takeover. A September

19th Matichon editorial promised readers that \”regardless of a

20 percent thorn in our flesh, we shall not change for the

worse.\”

 

BANGKOK POST: BEING SOLD DOWN THE RIVER TO CHINA?

 

5. (U) Although the announcements were made the same day, there

was significantly less media attention given to Paiboon\’s

takeover of 25 percent of the English-language Bangkok Post.

Whereas the staff of Matichon could be seen linking hands on the

front pages of newspapers, the Bangkok Post issue was often

relegated to background material, even when they staged a rally

at Government House on September 20. On September 22, The Nation

reported that Robert Kuok, who owns the South China Morning

Post, Hong Kong\’s leading English-language newspaper, was

considering making an offer on Paiboon\’s newly acquired shares.

Billionaire Kuok already controls a 20 percent stake in the

Post\’s parent company, and is known to be very close to Beijing.

 

SETBACKS: POPULAR POLITICAL TV PROGRAM FORCED OFF THE AIR

 

6. (U) In marked contrast to the Matichon victory, September

15th saw the cancellation of popular political television

program \”Muang Thai Rai Sapdaa\” (Thailand Weekly) hosted by

respected journalist and businessman Sondhi Limthongkul, and a

former loyal supporter of the PM. The state-run Channel 9 said

the show had been canceled because Sondhi had made inappropriate

remarks with regard to the royal family. In his program, Mr.

Sondhi implied on numerous occasions that the King was angry

with the TRT government for exercising powers which are

constitutionally reserved to the crown, in the ongoing

controversy over the designation of a national Auditor-General

(Ref B). The program had been on the air over a year, and was

popular among the politically savvy Thai elite. Mr. Sondhi

angrily denounced the cancellation, and moved his show to ASTV

Channel 1, a private satellite TV station which is estimated to

have fewer than 1000 subscribers. In his own symbolic act of

protest, Sondhi has sued MCOT, the state regulating body, for

one baht (less than three cents) for criminal and civil libel,

and planned to file another for lost wages. Several Democrat

Party MPs, led by Sathit Wongnongtoey, filed a petition with the

National Ombudsman asking for a ruling on whether this violated

the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press.

 

THAKSIN OFFERS HIS VIEWS- \”DON\’T DRAG ME INTO THE MATTER\”

 

7. (U) On September 22, at his weekly press conference, PM

Thaksin denied any involvement in last week\’s incidents. He

admitted that he knew Paiboon well but said that \”it [would be]

a stupid move for me to buy into Matichon for political and

business reasons,\” since there were so many other media outlets

in the country. He saw the hostile takeover attempt as a normal

stock transaction, and added that he did not devote himself to

any business dealings since he became Prime Minister. Regarding

his former ally Sondhi, the PM said that his administration had

not been involved in the show\’s cancellation, but that it was

within the rights of MCOT and Channel 9 to cancel a program it

felt was inappropriate.

BOYCE

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Written by thaicables

June 21, 2011 at 4:55 am

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