It was educational to watch the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) handle the Channel 11 kerfuffle last week. The regulators still are feeling their way over just how much power they have, and how they can enforce it. The commission effectively finessed the whole controversy over an appearance on the government-owned station by fugitive ex-premier Thaksin Shinawatra.
The NBTC's subcommittee on content and programme slots held a closed-door probe that lasted hours. No witnesses were examined in public, or named at all. No public comment was invited or heard. After this ''investigation'', the committee chairman ruled that the NBTC had no right to intervene, since programme content is strictly a matter between Channel 11 and whoever buys the airtime.
It seems likely the NBTC will come to regret this decision, or perhaps to ignore it. Content of Thai TV programmes is often debated. The public, too, should regret this confusing, double-negative decision that the appearance of Thaksin during a Muay Thai tournament broadcast from Macau was _ in the NBTC's words _ ''not illegal''. If the broadcast regulators appointed by the 1997 people's constitution will not regulate broadcasts, who will?
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