Digital TV licence giveaway 'unfair'

The national broadcast regulator's decision to grant Channel 5 and Channel 11 free licences to operate digital television is unfair on other broadcasters, according to a dissenting NBTC commissioner.

The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) on Monday decided that existing operators - namely Channel 5, Channel 11 and Thai PBS - would automatically receive licences to operate digital TV as they are considered public service broadcasters.

The NBTC's five-person broadcasting committee voted 3-2.

Commissioner Supinya Klangnarong voted against the move. She said she disagreed with the decision because it would give the army-run Channel 5 a free "public service" licence.

She said the majority of that channel's programming is not in the public's interest, but is for commercial gains.

She also opposed granting Channel 11 a free licence, as the channel was a mere propaganda machine for the government.

The two channels should have to compete with other broadcasters, Ms Supinya said.

Moreover, the channels will not be compelled to adjust their content to serve the public if they receive the licences freely, she said.

The media will remain under the influence of the government and army over the long term, she said.

A survey by the foundation for media literacy found Channel 5's content is 44% informative and 56% entertainment.

Public service TV must carry at least 75% informative content, according to the Broadcasting Act. The act governs the allocation of the state-owned asset broadcasting frequencies.

Sutham Yoonaitham, former member of the now-defunct National Telecommunications Commission, said the act is designed to keep at arms length the government from the mass media.

The NBTC not only failed to achieve that objective but seemed to have increased the government's power by granting a free licence to its mouthpiece, Channel 11, he said.

Giving government- and army-run channels access to digital broadcast rights was unfair when others would have to bid for a licence and spend more money on set-top boxes, Mr Sutham said.

Col Natee Sukonrat, chairman of the NBTC's broadcasting committee, said the goal of extending the privilege to Channel 5, Channel 11 and Thai PBS is to speed up transition from analog to digital TV. Expanding free digital rights would hasten the move to digitisation and is an internationally accepted method, he said.

Related search: broadcasting, digital TV, NBTC, digital TV licence, Channel 5, Channel 11, Thai PBS, Supinya Klangnarong

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Writer: Saengwit Kewaleewongsatorn