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State and Media in Thailand During Political Transition

Chavarong Limpattamapanee
Arnaud Leveau

The Papers

Media Ownership

Veera Prateepchaikul

Full text

1Most journalists would, I believe, like someone, preferably one of their own kind, who understand the basics of professional journalism and principle of journalism, that is free expression, to be the owner of their newspapers, radio or television stations. In reality however, it is the businessmen who have the controlling stakes in most media and journalists are mostly employees with an exceptional few rising to become the editors. An editor dictates what is to be printed or broadcast and what is to be spiked. However, the media owner still has the final say if he or she chooses to interfere with the editorial affairs.

2In Thailand, almost all the newspapers are owned by private companies, some of which listed in the stock market such as the Bangkok Post, Matichon and the Nation. Journalists may hold shares in the papers but they belong to the minority. Broadcast media, on the other hand, is entirely owned by the state in accordance with the Radio and Television Act of 1955 although most of them were leased to private operators on short-term contractual basis on in the form of long-term concession.

Ownership structure of broadcast media in Thailand

3According to research paper written by Professor Ubonrat Siriyuvasak of Chulalongkorn University which appeared in Asia Media Report produced by Inter Press Service Asia-Pacific, there were altogether 524 radio stations, five state-owned television stations and one independent, iTV, which, as a result of the government's decision this year, would transform into a public service television station, officially known as TITV.

4A breakdown of the radio stations is as follows: 147 or 28.05% owned by the Public Relations Department, 201 or 38.35% owned by the Defence Ministry, 44 or 8.4% owned by the police, 62 or 11.83% by Mass Communications Organisation of Thailand, 16 or 3.05% by the parliament, 12 or 2.3% by the University Affairs Ministry, 12 or 2.3% by Post and Telegraph Department and 30 or 5.72% owned by other state agencies.

5In practice however, most of these radio stations were leased out to private operators on contractual basis. The top six major radio operators in 2003 were A-Time Media of GMM Grammy Group, Radio Arm, U & I Corp (presently Virgin Radio) of BEC-TERO. GG News, Skyhigh Network of RS Promotion and CA Radio. They made up 51.42% of total share of the ownership of 35 privately-operated radio stations in Bangkok.

6According to another study conducted in 2003 by Somkiat Tangkitvanich of TDRI, there was a growing concentration of ownership and revenue in radio industry. Among the top 10 radio stations in Bangkok, eight were music stations while the other two were local traffic news and talk stations with A-Time Media having the largest audience share.

7The same study showed that there were 15 large business groups which operated both AM and FM radio stations across the country. The top three groups were KCS Corp and JS Broker of the Satitsatien group; Prince Marketing, Belloy, Smart Bomb and Minute Band of Bunsatit group; and RK Media, R & T Media, and IT Inter of Rungtanakiat group. They had among them 80 stations or 15.26% of total number of radio stations.

8Most of the major players in radio industry in Bangkok were linked to large entertainment media corporation such as U & I Corp or BEC-TERO or of major music corporations such as A-Time Media of GMM Grammy and Skyhigh Network of RS Promotion and media brokers. The last group consists of major national operators, mostly concessionaires whose business is brokering between state agencies and media producers.

9The television industry, on the other hand, is limited in scope because only a few media corporations can enter the sector and compete successfully. There are three privately-operated stations, Channels 5, 9 and 11. Channel 7 which is owned by Krungthep Witayu lae Thoratat of the Karnasuta family was given a 56-year concession (from 1967-2023) from the Army. Channel 3, owned by Bangkok Entertainment Corp or BEC-TERO of the Maleenont family was given a 50-year concession (1995-20250) from the Office of the Prime Minister. These concessions are spared the effects of the 1997 Constitution which requires redistribution of transmission frequencies.

10Article 40 of the so-called People's Constitution which took effect in 1997 but was sadly revoked in last September 19 coup tries to change the ownership structure of broadcast media in Thailand where the broadcast media is entirely owned by the state. The charter stipulates essentially that transmission frequencies for radio or television broadcasting and radio telecommnunication are national communication resources for public interest. It calls for the setting up of an independent regulatory body to redistribute radio and television frequencies to be called National Broadcasting Commission and another to redistribute telecom frequencies. Sadly though, the setting up of the NBC has never been successful as various vested interest groups sought to push their way to have a say in the commission. Thus, the transmission frequencies still remain firmly in the state's hands. The only exception was the setting up of iTV, supposedly an independent television station, during early 2000s. Eventually, the station was taken over by the Shinawatra family before the ownership was transferred to Temasek of Singapore in a controversial shares deal in 2005. In 2007, iTV was taken back by the government after the company failed to pay concession fees and taxes amounting to several billion baht. The station will eventually become a public service television station in accordance with the government's decision.

11Since the 1997 Constitution set out to redistribute transmission frequencies which have long been controlled by the state, preparations were made by several private firms, non-governmental organisations and communities to apply for the frequencies to operation their own stations. The Public Relations Department was assigned to draw up regulations regarding the so-called community radio stations. It was stipulated 80% of the transmission frequencies reserved for community radio stations were to be allocated for the private and government sectors and the rest for public sector with a condition that the public sector's frequencies would not be utilised for profit-making.

12Unfortunately though, power struggling among vested interest groups has stalled the establishment of the NBA, causing frustration among the applicants to operate community radios. Impatient with the seemingly endless bickerings, several of them went ahead to set up their community-based stations to break free from state control.

13Thanks to the advent of new broadcasting technology and low investment costs, the ``vacuum'' period during which the NBA was still non-existent while the Public Relations Department was confused about its regulatory power gave rise to proliferation of ``illegal'' community radio stations, many of them owned by music giant companies to promote their music as well as local politicians. It was only when some of the frequencies interfered with the operations of aeronautical radio station in a way which could jeopardise air traffic that the Public Relations Department, at the government's instruction, tried to rein in the ``illegal'' community radio stations.


Deputy Editor-in-Chief, The Post Publishing Group

© Institut de recherche sur l’Asie du Sud-Est contemporaine, 2007

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