Has NBTC gone too far?

Has NBTC gone too far?

National Broadcasting Telecommunication (NBTC), the state regulator overseeing telecom and digital TV concessions, has recently been cast in a not so favourable light.

After being criticised for its slowness in dealing with how a "mega-merger" of True and DTAC might create unfair trade competition, NBTC has now been panned after it reportedly summoned digital and state TV operators to discuss the content that TV news stations should present or refrain from, following the aftermath of the Nov 10 Constitutional Court ruling against three political activists.

The court's verdict found the activists were in the wrong in relation to Section 49 of the charter that prohibits people from using their rights and freedoms to overthrow the constitutional monarchy.

Their actions were related to a 10-point manifesto involving monarchy reform which was announced at a rally held by the United Front for Thammasat and Demonstration on Aug 10 last year as well as their subsequent follow-up campaigns.

At the Nov 26 meeting held in the NBTC office, Lt Gen Peerapong Monakit, an NBTC commissioner, is reported to have warned TV operators and concessionaires to exercise discretion or even refrain from presenting content on some monarchy-related issues, particularly in relation to the 10-point memo manifesto and the three activists.

Regardless of the intention, critics have now accused the NBTC of stifling press freedom.

Such a warning by a powerful regulator like the NBTC will only force TV operators and concessionaires into self-censorship.

Amornrat Chokepamitkul, a Move Forward Party MP and member of the House committee on human rights, has reportedly summoned the NBTC to the House to explain why they needed to issue such warnings to the media.

Yet, it is likewise understood that the NBTC may be concerned over any legal consequences that TV news operators may face over such a severe charge as contempt against the court if their content conflicted with the Nov 10 court ruling.

Then again some in the Thai media -- especially TV -- say they already have an understanding of the law, and act in compliance, making the issue of a warning from the NBTC unnecessary.

Meanwhile, the court ruling will have a wide effect on the country's political landscape.

Its verdict will be used by various political players, especially radical royalists that pledge to use it to pursue lese majeste charge against critics of the institute of the monarchy.

But such censorship will do harm to both the revered institute and to democratic society over the long term.

The government and the NBTC must beware of that consequence, and therefore create a conducive atmosphere that encourages peaceful dialogue.

The state must not create mistrust or send obscure warnings which result in self-censorship.

The NBTC can play the role in moving new media formats into the future.

But the new frontier is more than hi-tech telecom spectrum, lighnting fast wifi-signals and pricey telecom technology.

The media of the future is also about an open society, freedom and fair play.

The NBTC needs to consider that. It should refrain from anything approaching Orwellian where authoritarian rulers summon the media and tell what to report and what not to.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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