Media share probes 'fair'

Media share probes 'fair'

Observers defend charter court move

Academics have leapt to the defence of the Constitutional Court in the wake of the court's decision to allow 32 government MPs who are accused of breaching the charter's rule on shareholdings in media firms to continue performing their duties.

However, observers believe the 32 MPs are not out of the woods yet, as they could still be suspended from their duties if the court finds grounds for the accusations against them later.

The court on Wednesday accepted petitions against 32 of the 41 government MPs for alleged media shareholding rule violations, but did not suspend them from their duties. The petition against nine other MPs were rejected, as the judges "found no grounds to support the accusations".

The court explained that unlike the case against Future Forward Party (FFP) leader Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, it did not suspend the 32 government MPs because the case against them came directly to the court through the House Speaker, without being screened by any agency or supplied with enough evidence, so it will have to investigate the matter further.

Mr Thanathorn's case, on the other hand, had been reviewed by an inquiry panel set up by the Election Commission (EC) and the court felt it had enough evidence on hand to suspend him, the court said on Wednesday.

The EC found Mr Thanathorn held shares in V-Luck Media Co, a media firm, when he registered as an MP candidate in early February, an alleged violation of Section 98 (3) of the charter, which prohibits owners and shareholders of media and/or publishing firms from applying to become MPs.

Mr Thanathorn was suspended from his duties on May 23, pending a court ruling on whether he had breached the media-shareholding rules.

In response, FFP secretary-general Piyabutr Saengkanokkul urged the public to keep an eye on the cases involving the 32 MPs, following the court's decision not to suspend them.

However, Jade Donavanik, a legal expert and former adviser to the Constitution Drafting Committee, on Thursday told the Bangkok Post that it was wrong to allege different standards were applied in the cases against Mr Thanathorn and the 32 MPs.

Mr Jade said if the court gathers enough evidence that the 32 MPs held shares in media firms before they applied to become MP candidates, the next step for the court is to consider whether they still held the shares after they registered as MP candidates, as in the case of Mr Thanathorn.

Wanwichit Boonprong, a political scientist at Rangsit University, agreed it was not necessary for the court to handle the cases against the 32 MPs in the same way it does Mr Thanathorn's as there were differences between both. "The court will handle them on a case-by-case basis," Mr Wanwichit said.

In the case of Mr Thanathorn, the court has enough evidence that he held shares in a media firm, though it has yet to be proven whether he transferred his shares before or after he registered as an MP candidate.

Satithorn Thananitichote, the acting director of the Office of Innovation for Democracy under King Prajadhipok Institute, said the court will order the 32 MPs to be suspended if there are grounds to the accusations against them.

A source said that of the 32 MPs, four of them are tipped to become cabinet ministers in the next government -- namely Nataphol Teepsuwan of the Palang Pracharath Party (PPRP), who is tipped to become the next education minister; PPRP's Suchart Chomklin, who is slated to become the next labour minister; Sathit Pitudecha of the Democrat Party, who is set to become the deputy public health minister; as well as Chartpattana Party leader Tewan Liptapanlop, who is touted to be the next deputy industry minister.

In a tit-for-tat move, some government MPs on Thursday asked the Constitutional Court to probe 33 opposition MPs for alleged media shareholding violations.

The petition targeted 21 FFP MPs, four MPs each from the Pheu Thai Party and the Puea Chat Party, three MPs of the Seri Ruam Thai Party, and one of the Prachachat Party.

They sent the petition through House Speaker Chuan Leekpai on Thursday.

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