Soap opera axing sparks political firestorm

The national telecom regulator is expected to hold an emergency meeting Monday to review the abrupt axing of a prime-time soap opera amid accusations of political interference.

  • Published: 6/01/2013 at 12:00 AM
  • Newspaper section: topstories

Commissioner Supinya Klangnarong of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) said she wondered if political interference caused cancellation of the show.

Privately owned Channel 3 abruptly pulled a broadcast of political drama Nua Mek 2 on Friday night.

The opposition Democrat Party Saturday called on independent organisations, including the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) and the ombudsman, to investigate the sudden cancellation.

NBTC commissioner Supinya Klangnarong said Saturday she would ask the NBTC board to discuss the issue in a special session tomorrow.

Ms Supinya said on her Twitter page yesterday that political interference would amount to freedom of expression being trampled on.

But if Channel 3 permitted the interference, questions about the station's moral courage would arise, she said.

"If this was a case of self-censorship on Channel 3's part, the station would not likely file a complaint. Those who stand to lose are the viewers," she said. She said Channel 3 might have resorted to self-censorship because it feared the "invisible hand" of political influence might affect its broadcast concession.

"We [NBTC], as a regulator, never put pressure on or gave a warning to Channel 3 [over the series content], so why did the station show fear like this?," Ms Supinya said.

She said the station seems to fear "political influence" rather than the NBTC because it operates under the state concession system.

Another NBTC commissioner, Peerapong Manakit, said yesterday the commission will send a letter to Channel 3 tomorrow demanding an explanation.

The commissioner said he has spoken with an executive at Channel 3 who told him the content of Nua Mek 2 breached Section 37 of the Broadcast and Telecommunications Operations Act.

Section 37 bars broadcast content that seeks to overthrow the constitutional monarchy, threatens national security or morality, constitutes profanity or harms people's mental or physical health.

However, Lt Gen Peerapong said the executive did not say which specific part of Section 37 Nua Mek 2 might have violated.

Nua Mek 2 tells the story of a prime minister, his crooked deputy who is involved in a dubious satellite project, and a sorcerer who performs black rites to manipulate political events.

The series also featured a lead character called Praepailin and a special investigation unit called the TSI.

The hook of the story was that the prime minister had already died and his body is now possessed by a necromancer.

The move to axe the show sparked criticism from many viewers through social media.

Some link the name of Praepailin to Paetongtarn, the name of one of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's children, and they believe another key reason behind the ban is that the story tells about corrupt practices in a satellite deal. Thaksin was a former satellite tycoon.

Sunisa Lertpakawat, a Pheu Thai Party deputy spokeswoman, yesterday dismissed allegations the series was cancelled due to orders from Thaksin.

Prime Minister's Office Minister Varathep Rattanakorn, who supervises MCOT, the concessionaire of Channel 3, denied the government was pulling strings.

Democrat Party list MP Ong-art Klampaibul said he suspected there might be a person who had power over cabinet ministers who might have a role in the abrupt end of the series.

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