A court battle is shaping up in the digital television licensing row.
Two critics have threatened to get the courts involved after the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) decided to give digital public television licences to Channel 5, Channel 11 and Thai PBS.
Media activists, academics and legal experts have urged the NBTC to review its decision to grant four digital TV licences to operate public television services to the three existing operators.
The NBTC's five-person broadcasting committee voted 3-2 last Monday to grant the licences without calling for bids.
NBTC member Supinya Klangnarong, who voted against the granting of the licences, said she would submit a seven-point proposal to the commission.
"If the commission refuses to listen, a court intervention will be necessary," she told a forum organised by the Thai Broadcasting Journalism Association (TBJA).
She said the proposal would ask the NBTC to set conditions for licensing, clearly define public services and suspend the granting of the four licences until public hearings are organised.
At the same forum Chavarong Limpattamapanee, adviser to the TBJA, said the NBTC will have to answer to the court unless it reviews its decision.
He called on Thai PBS, which is a public broadcaster, to reject the licence until the process is revised.
The four licences are among 12 digital TV licences earmarked for providers of public television services as part of the process of digitising the TV transmission system. Critics consider the regulator's move as unfair to new players and a possible violation of the law.
Senator Somchai Sawaengkarn said yesterday the Senate committee on consumer protection has agreed to look into the issue.
He said Col Natee Sukonrat, chairman of the NBTC's broadcasting committee, will be summoned to clarify how it decided to grant the licences.
Somkiat Tangkijvanich, president of the Thailand Development Research Institute, said the NBTC's licence "give-away" is against the principles of media reform and could be illegal.
Based on the existing broadcasting and frequency allocation laws, the NBTC is required to hold public hearings before proceeding with the allocation.
Moreover, digital public broadcasters are required to set aside more than 70% of their content for public service.
"As far as I know, no such thing [in terms of setting aside content] has happened before the granting of the licences. So it may be illegal," Mr Somkiat said.
State agencies seeking a licence to operate digital TV should adjust their programme content to meet the criteria of being a public service broadcaster, Mr Somkiat said. "If a state agency which owns the television station that was granted the public television licence uses it for commercial gains or to serve its own purposes, the station is not a public service broadcaster," he said.
Channel 5 is under the army while Channel 11, run by the Public Relations Department, is seen as a government mouthpiece.
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- Writer: Pradit Ruangdit