Top policeman enters 'Tob Jote' fray

The national police chief will review the entire five-part Tob Jote series aired on Thai PBS to see if it broke any laws. The last programme in the series, which involved a debate on the role of the monarchy, has stirred controversy after it was abruptly cancelled only to be aired a few days later.

About 100 people rallied at the Thai PBS headquarters on Vibhavadi Rangsit Road Wednesday to demand station director Somchai Suwanban resign over the broadcasting of the controversial debate on the role of the monarchy. (Photo by Surapol Promsaka Na Sakolnakorn)

National police chief Pol Gen Adul Saengsingkaew said he has instructed the authorities to provide him with all necessary information including the Tob Jote script.

"I will head the review myself. This is expected to take a couple of days," he said.

Special Branch police have also been instructed to gather information for an in-depth investigation, he said.

Pol Gen Adul said he has told authorities to monitor whether the programme was posted on the internet to fuel conflict or deepen divisions in society.

He said he has watched parts of the programme and was unable to say if the content breaks the law.

Thai PBS station chief Somchai Suwanban said Wednesday the Tob Jote TV programme will continue and make sure controversial issues are debated.

Mr Somchai said the broadcaster will find a new host after Pinyo Trisuriyadhamma decided to quit as producer.

Thai PBS broadcast the fifth and final episode of the Tob Jote series on the monarchy on Monday evening.

"Sensitive issues like religion, the justice system, corruption and the family institution will be debated.

"We are open to questioning by academics. This makes us stand out from other stations," he said.

The station director was speaking at a forum organised by Chulalongkorn University's mass communications faculty to discuss the role of the public broadcaster following its airing of the programme.

The five-part series was supposed to air on Thai PBS last week. The fifth and final episode was pulled last Friday but eventually broadcast on Monday.

Mr Somchai also insisted that broadcasting this particular episode was the right decision.

"False information [about the institution of the monarchy] is being spread underground. If the issue is publicly discussed, it can be scrutinised. And we know who is responsible," he said.

All participants at the forum voiced support for Thai PBS's editorial independence and the need to have a channel to discuss sensitive issues.

Several, however, criticised the station's stance.

Prinya Tevanaruemitrkul, a law lecturer and vice-rector of Thammasat University, said Thai PBS could have handled the situation better.

"The executives had reviewed the show and decided it was good to go.

When there was an outcry, the director apparently wanted to cancel it."

Mr Prinya also urged the station to be careful about how it approaches contentious matters.

"The question is not about 'if' but 'how' we should discuss it. The discussion must be based on civil rights and liberties which come with responsibility, not with absolute freedom.

"[Participants] must learn to take responsibility for what they say and respect what others have to say," he said.

Chumpol Rodkhamdee, former dean of Chulalongkorn University's mass communications faculty, said a public broadcaster must stay true to its principles especially when it comes to editorial independence.

"Without it, trust and professional credibility are lost," he said.

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Writer: Mongkol Bangprapa
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