By WATCHIRANONT THONGTEP
MEDIA SCHOLARS, consumer-rights groups and broadcasting associations yesterday jointly called for a revision of the new draft bill governing the national broadcasting and telecommunications agency, in order to maintain the independence of the broadcasting
“The new draft broadcasting bill will be an obstacle to media development in the country and drag the growing broadcasting industry and media sector back to the age of bureaucratic regimes,” said Jamnan Siritan Nunbhakdi, president of the Radio-Television Broadcasting Profession Federation.
She made the remark at a seminar on “unfolding the new broadcasting bill: Is it the right direction for media reform?” co-organised by the federation and the Professionals of Broadcasting Council Thailand.
The main concerns expressed by media scholars, rights groups and associations over the draft bill include the selection process for the seven commissioners of a new broadcasting and telecommunications regulator, the new roles and independence of the regulatory body, and assessment of the regulator.
Another issue is the funding for media research and development in the broadcasting industry.
Chvarong Limpattamapanee, adviser to the Thai Journalists Association, said the planned reduction in the number of commissioners from 11 at the current National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission to just seven would be a barrier to media specialists becoming members, because of newly amended qualifications under the bill.
For example, in Section 4 of the draft bill governing the membership qualifications for the regulatory body, a commissioner shall be of Thai nationality and aged between 45 and 65.
Eligible candidates shall be at least a director-general, for those who work as a civil servant; an associate professor or above with a minimum five years’ experience, for academics; and an executive vice president or above with a minimum three years’ experience in at least a Bt1-billion bourse-listed company, for businesspeople.
Police lieutenant-generals and military officers serving as a lieutenant-general, air marshal or vice admiral, or above, shall also be eligible, as well as representatives from consumer-protection groups with a minimum of 10 years’ experience.
“Therefore, we will soon submit a petition to the Cabinet for the bill’s revision,” Jamnan said.
She also questioned the qualifications of the proposed selection committee for the regulatory body, which under the draft bill would consist of six members from the Courts of Justice and the governor of the Bank of Thailand.
“In dealing with this fast-changing industry, the members of the selection committee for the media regulator must understand the industry and have strong backgrounds from both the broadcasting and telecommunications sectors,” Pana Thongmeearkom, member of the National Reform Council (NRC), told the seminar.
Given the bureaucratic approach in the draft bill, NRC member Saree Ongsomwang, who also is secretary-general of the Federation for Consumers, said press freedom and consumer rights would definitely be adversely affected by the new circumstances, which neither created a level playing field for business operators nor ensured consumer rights.