By Watchiranont Thongtep
Media Monitor-Foundation for Media Studies – the non-profit organisation that organised "From Thai PBS to the Future of Public Broadcasting Service in Thailand" – said Thai Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) was able to respond to public needs, but the roles of other public broadcasters such as the Army’s TV5 and the Public Relations Department’s NBT in supporting and protecting public benefits were still questionable.
According to Media Monitor’s study, TV5, which is undergoing a transformation from a commercially oriented broadcaster to a public broadcaster for national security, still provides some commercially sponsored TV programmes, while NBT, formerly known as Channel 11, is mainly supporting government policies.
NBT is going to be another channel for public service.
Thepchai Yong, from the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, questioned the role of TV5 as a soon-to-be public TV station for national security, as it continued to air entertainment programmes during the August 17 bombing at the Ratchaprasong intersection.
However, public broadcasting is a universal element of true democracy, which has to welcome public participation, and the Thai PBS model is a good example, he said.
Thai PBS has the capacity to work on areas that mainstream broadcasters are not interested in, as it is fully funded by taxes. Thai PBS appeared to enjoy more freedom than commercial TV stations, which are now facing tough competition from the huge increase in players after the birth of 24 digital channels.
The key is for all kinds of public TV stations to deliver on their promises to the public, Thepchai said.
Supinya Klangnarong, a member of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), said public broadcasting was a significant outcome of the Thai media reform in 1997.
"That aimed at media liberalisation through allocating national frequencies to three segments – public service, commercial service and community-based service. It helped guarantee public participation and free and fair competition," she said.
After this change, the NBTC took on the responsibility to change the old concession regime to the new licence-based system.
"Having independent public broadcasters indicates the democratic situation in each country," said Somchai Suwanban, director-general of Thai PBS.
He admitted that Thai PBS was sometimes recognised as a player among commercial TV stations. Positioned as a news station, Thai PBS is now facing severe competition from commercial news TV stations.
Under the NBTC’s master plan, 12 digital TV channels are reserved for public service. Besides Thai PBS, TV5, NBTC channel and Thai Parliament TV, Supinya sees several prospects such as the Defence Ministry, the university alliance and ETV, which is run by the Education Ministry.
Suwanna Sombatraksasook, deputy managing director of More TV, which is operated by the alliance of Thai universities, said her channel was interested in applying for a licence for public broadcasting for education.
More TV programmes will be created and based on academic papers from a network of 33 universities. The TV station now has 47 studios located at various universities with a workforce of 200.