Senators outraged by PBS talk show

Senators outraged by PBS talk show

Senators from the Group of 40 on Monday lashed out at the "Tob Jote Thailand" television talk show featuring a debate on the role of the monarchy under the constitution and the necessity to amend Section 112 of the Criminal Code, saying it could be deemed lese majeste.

The show, moderated by Pinyo Trisuriyadhamma, was aired on Thai PBS television station on Mar 12-14.  However, the final episode of the show, which was scheduled to be broadcast on Mar 15, was abruptly cancelled by the station following heavy criticism from the public.

The most controversial part of the show was on Mar 14, featuring a debate between Somsak Jiamtheerasakul, a lecturer from Thammasat University, and Sulak Sivaraksa, a well-known academic and social critic.

The issue was raised for discussion at today's meeting of the Senate, chaired by speaker Nikom Wairatpanich.

Truengchai Buranasompop, an appointed senator, said she saw the programme on the night of Mar 14 and found the opinions voiced by the two academics very offensive and detrimental to Thai society.

The Thai monarchy is much different from those in other countries, she said. Past Thai kings had played a crucial role in the survival, existence and prosperity of the country while the present king has also made great contributions and his speeches are truly respectable, she said.

Jate Sirataranont, an appointed senator, said the show hurt and outraged the Thai people. He said he did not understand why the show host invited Mr Somsak and Mr Sulak to debate the role of the monarchy which is highly placed.

The TPBS director and the station's committee on policies and programming should be held responsible for this matter.

Since both Mr Sulak and Mr Somsak wanted Section 112 of the Criminal Code, or the lese majeste law, to be amended, it was not right for the station to have invited them to debate the issue. In fact, the debaters should hold different opinions to create a sense of balance, he said.

Appointed senator Wanchai Sornsiri said TPBS, a public television station run by taxpayers' money, should be more careful in its spending and not serve the interests of any particular group of people.

The programme had caused division in the country and damaged TPBS's reputation and image, he said.

Gen Lertrit Vejsawan, an appointed senator and former director of army-run TV Channel 5, said the contents of the programme constituted lese majeste.

He called for agencies concerned including the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission, and the committee supervising TPBS to consider taking punitive action against those involved.

The Royal Thai Police Office and the Department of Special Investigation, too, should consider taking legal action against the show host and the interviewees for lese majeste, Gen Lertrit said.

Pornpan Boonyaratphan, another appointed senator, said the show's contents violated Section 112 of the Criminal Code. His Majesty the King's speeches were mentioned by the two debaters without respect.

TPBS should concentrate on presenting programmes which answer the country's problems such as the government's rice-pledging policy which has put the country in debt.

Although Section 112 of the Criminal Code has not been amended it would not be harmful to the majority of people as feared by the two interviewees who might have some hidden intentions, she said.

In responding to criticism, the editorial team of Tob Jote issued a statement saying the debate series on such a sensitive topic was meant to strengthen the royal insitutition and help the country struggle against prejudice and social divisions.

At the beginning of the statement, the programmers denied allegations that they favoured any political ideology and insisted it gave balanced airtime to the guest speakers from opposite sides.

The statement said some people might allege Mr Pinyo, the show host, favoured Mr Somsak, who is a controversial monarchy commentator, because of his appearance on the programme.

"However, they may forget that a day before that we invited former foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai. And to not make the audience feel uncomfortable, we later invited retired police general Vasit Dejkunjorn, who is a well known royalist," the statement said.

"It should be noted one man here can be accused of being both a person who loves and wants to overthrow the monarchy at the same time. He is accused of hindering those in the avant-garde camp and attempting to destroy the monarch at the same time.

"We have to do our duty. We are either open-minded or we shut ourselves down. We are either neutral or we take sides. In this case, we are being harshly criticised by both sides [proponents and opponents of the monarchy] as much as any media in this country will ever face. 

"There is no village wanting to be in the middle of two wars. If you want to know our true intention and why we take risks in being condemned or misunderstood in attempting such an uphill task? The answer is in the last instalment of a talk series on the monarchy which was banned on March 15.

"If you ask us why we picked this topic. It should be noted that we announced our decision to stop producing the talk programme for the station on our Facebook page on Sunday night. The page has got more than 600,000 views and, if this visit rate continues at the same pace, the number of page views is likely to reach a million in the next two days.

"We did not want to create ratings as some people have suggested. But this shows the debate on this sharp, thought-provoking topic is drawing interest from many people.

"We thank you all and are pleased to accept every critique conveyed from the deep part of their conscious mind. Although some of them are harsh and furious, we are wiling to listen. It is by listening profoundly that will make us see friends and understand the thoughts of all the dissidents out there. It is a way to truly resolve confrontations in society.

"This is the reason we listen to all of you quietly."

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