Thai PBS assembles legal team

Cops focus on content of 4th, 5th 'Tob Jote' shows

Thai PBS has assembled a legal team to fight possible criminal charges after police launched an investigation into controversial content screened on its Tob Jote political talk show.

The show recently ran a five-part series debating the role of the monarchy.

Somchai Suwanban, chief of the public broadcaster, was confident the station would be able to defend itself against any criminal charges.

"There is no part [of the programme] which was offensive to the monarchy or a threat to national security. I've watched it over and over," he said.

"The host and the speakers were careful to make sure the series was balanced."

Mr Somchai said the decision to suspend the fifth and final part of the series, which was scheduled to air last Friday, was based on safety concerns for station staff.

A group of royalists who had viewed the earlier episodes of the five-part series had turned up at Thai PBS headquarters and tried to intimidate staff, he said.

He maintained there had been no other intervention in the decision to suspend the final instalment, or in the unannounced decision to air it on Monday night.

Mr Somchai said the broadcast of the final episode on Monday was in line with a recommendation by the station's public complaints committee. Audience members had demanded to watch the entire series, he said.

"I can explain everything. The steps we have taken are justified," he said.

The station director added he was surprised the broadcaster had come under such heavy criticism for airing the programme.

The government and police have stepped up pressure on the public broadcaster after army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha criticised the content of the programme on Tuesday.

Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said yesterday that if the programme's host or any guest speakers were found to have violated the law, they would be prosecuted.

Section 77 of the constitution requires the government to protect the royal institution, he said.

Mr Chalerm ordered national police chief Pol Gen Adul Saengsingkaew to send him the transcript of the programme.

He will examine the transcript personally and have his legal advisers consider its legality.

"Any lecturer or programme host who did wrong must be prosecuted.

"If they did nothing wrong, that's fine.

"But did they have any other purpose than criticising the institution? Rights have limits," Mr Chalerm said.

Police said yesterday an initial probe into the content of the Tob Jote series found that remarks made by some of the guest speakers may violate the Criminal Code.Police spokesman Piya Uthayo said the content was found in the fourth and fifth episodes.

The two episodes featured a debate between social critic Sulak Sivaraksa and Thammasat University lecturer Somsak Jeamteerasakul on the need to maintain the lese majeste law.

Pol Maj Gen Piya warned people to be careful when re-posting comments made by guest speakers on the programme, because they may also be at risk of breaching the law.

Pol Maj Gen Piya did not specify which parts of the episodes were possibly illegal, nor did he indicate whether they had breached Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or lese majeste law.

On Wednesday, Pol Gen Adul set up a committee to review all five episodes of the Tob Jote programme.

The committee is chaired by Pol Gen Chatchawal Suksomjit, a police adviser. Pol Lt Gen Saritchai Anekwiang, commissioner of the Special Branch Police, will serve as deputy chairman.

The committee comprises 50 investigators from the Legal Affairs Office, Metropolitan Police Bureau and Special Branch Bureau.

Police stations nationwide have been instructed to take any complaints which may be filed in connection with the case and report them to the investigation committee.

The committee has been ordered to report its progress to the Royal Thai Police Office every 30 days.

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