CABLE: TELEVISION IN THAILAND: WHO HOLDS THE LEASH

“57554”,”3/22/2006 7:45″,
“06BANGKOK1747”,
“Embassy Bangkok”,
“UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,”
“,”VZCZCXRO7535
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHBK #1747/01 0810745
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 220745Z MAR 06
FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 7353
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS
RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI”,”UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 001747

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

PACOM FOR FPA HUSO
STATE FOR EAP/PD, IIP

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM, PREL, PGOV, KPAO, TH
SUBJECT: TELEVISION IN THAILAND: WHO HOLDS THE LEASH

REF: A. BKK 01549 – SHIN DEAL LEGAL SO WHAT?

B. BKK 00538 – TEMASEK BUYOUT OF SHIN CORP
C. BKK 01537 – OPPOSITION SELLS

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. The RTG has traditionally maintained tight
control over the information presented to the public over the
airwaves. The RTG owns all of the country\’s six television
licenses, although three are licenses to commercial
operators. Reform of broadcast media, though mandated by the
1997 Constitution, has been exceedingly slow in
materializing. Television professionals have practiced
self-censorship under the all-too-real threat of reprisal for
reporting anything overly critical of the government or
powerful pro-government commercial interests. In recent
weeks, we have seen a trend on the part of television news
programs to move beyond self-censorship and present
increasingly balanced coverage of the current political
crisis. Still, it is far too early to tell whether this
newfound freedom is here to stay. END SUMMARY.

WHO OWNS THE AIRWAVES…
————————

2. (SBU) The RTG maintains ownership over all of the
country\’s six free-to-air television licenses. Three of
these licenses are leased out to private companies but, as
the owner, the RTG has the ability to weigh in with the
management to ensure that they are not challenging government
policies or leadership. Below is a list of Thai television
channels and their respective ownership:

LICENSE OWNER Operator

Channel 3 MCOT BEC-Tero
Channel 5 Thai Army Thai Army
Channel 7 Thai Army Bangkok TV
Channel 9 MCOT MCOT
Channel 11 PRD PRD
iTV PM Office Shin

…AND WHO RUNS THEM
——————–

3. (SBU) The two long-standing commercial operators dominate
Thailand\’s prime-time viewership: Bangkok Entertainment
Company (BEC-Tero) operates Channel 3 and can expect five
million viewers most nights; Bangkok TV Company runs Channel
7 which routinely draws over twelve million viewers.
BEC-Tero, in turn, is owned by the Maleenot Family, and one
of the Maleenot\’s is the Minister of Tourism in Prime
Minister Thaksin\’s current Cabinet. Bangkok TV is owned by
the Kanthasut Family, also owners of the Italo-Thai
conglomerate, long-standing Thaksin supporters.

4. (SBU) Thailand\’s other independently-operated station is
iTV, established in 1997, and has around four million
viewers. It is operated by a subsidiary of the now infamous
Shin Corporation (see REFs A and B), owned by the family of
PM Thaksin Shinawatra until March 14 when it was purchased by
Singapore\’s Temasek Holdings. iTV insiders have told PDoff
that Grammy Entertainment, another close ally of the Prime
Minister, is interested in purchasing iTV from Temasek, but
to date there is no clear indication that such a sell-off is
in the works.

5. (SBU) The rest of Thai TV is operated by its respective
owners. Channel 9, which like iTV draws about four million
views, is operated by MCOT (Mass Communication Organization
of Thailand – a state-run enterprise that, although it is now
issuing shares to the public, is still 77 percent owned by
the Ministry of Finance). Channel 11, with about one million
viewers, is directly operated by the Prime Minister\’s Public
Relations Department, and Channel 5, with about two million
viewers, is still very much run by the Army.

CENSORSHIP THAI-STYLE
———————

6. (SBU) PDOFF and POLOFF met with representatives from the
six television stations to discuss a variety of issues
including the role of the RTG in news programming decisions.
Officials at Channel 5 and 11 made no bones about the fact
that programming decisions are made by senior military and
government officials in charge of the station. While
managers at the other four stations maintained that there is
no direct interference from the government in determining
news content, all agreed that an unwritten understanding
exists of what is and is not permissible.

BANGKOK 00001747 002 OF 002

7. (SBU) Producers at all three commercial stations confirmed
that self-imposed censorship is maintained by the tacit
threat of reprisal. TV hosts and producers who dare to cross
over the invisible line have routinely lost their airtime or
faced exile to some forgotten corner of the newsroom. These
producers speculated that powerful commercial interests with
ties to the government influence programming decisions by
threatening to pull advertisements and cut into revenues.

8. (SBU) One producer confirmed that stations occasionally
receive phone calls and even letters from the PM\’s Public
Relations Department suggesting that certain stories be
dropped or treated softly. When the anti-Thaksin movement
was principally led by Sondhi Limthongkul, the producer said
a government official called his station to \”encourage\” them
to play down the story. Several sources said that in the
past they had been told by management to stop investigating a
story that could damage commercial prospects of advertisers,
such as reports of toxic contamination in instant noodles and
shampoo.

REFORM ON THE SLOW TRACK
————————

9. (U) The 1997 Constitution mandated broadcast media reform
by calling for the reallocation of TV (and radio) frequencies
to the public, private, and community sectors. It further
mandated the establishment of an independent National
Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to oversee this distribution
and supervise the broadcast industry.

10. (SBU) Eight years later and implementation of these
reforms is still pending. In September 2005, the Senate put
forward a list of seven nominees for the NBC. Almost
immediately, media advocates and professionals in the field
questioned the nominees\’ independence, noting their close
ties to the government, military or established entertainment
industry. To date, the nominees have not been formally
appointed and, thus, the NBC has yet to be officially formed.

11. (SBU) At the same time, the draft
constitutionally-mandated Radio and Television Broadcasting
Bill continues to be mired in Parliament. An article
stipulating that any technician, announcer or host must
receive a license of operation from the RTG is one of the
principle roadblocks. Critics claim that the article is a
draconian measure designed to provide a governmental
screening process for media professionals.

TESTING, TESTING, 1, 2, 3
————————-

12. (SBU) As the campaign to oust PM Thaksin continues to
gain momentum, the Thai broadcast media has become
increasingly bold in its coverage of the anti-government
movement (see REF C). With the exception of Channel 11
(which is run out of the PM\’s office) all TV stations have
made unprecedented efforts to cover anti-Thaksin activities.
Media observers attribute this shift partly to a drive to
increase ratings, and partly to the fact that the
anti-Thaksin protests have simply gotten too big for the
broadcast media to ignore.

THE TELEVISION MAY NOT BE REVOLUTIONIZED
—————————————-

13. (SBU) COMMENT. Two months ago, we would not have
anticipated the remarkable shift that has occurred in
televised news coverage. Despite the government\’s complete
control of the broadcast media\’s licenses, journalists and
talk show hosts continue to press the boundary — offering
coverage that recently would have been unthinkable. To date,
the TV stations have not moved to crack down. In contrast,
the only talk show hosts to be fired recently were two
virulently pro-government commentators who were canned for
making disparaging remarks about much revered Privy Council
President Gen. Prem Tinsulanonda.

15. (SBU) Nevertheless, it is far too early to tell whether
this move away from self-censorship will endure. So far, the
media has been testing the waters on a single issue, the
anti-Thaksin movement and the political crisis that it has
generated. Admittedly, this is a huge story but it will
eventually come to an end. And when it does, whatever
government replaces the current caretaker administration will
still own the airwaves.
BOYCE

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