NBTC pressures Voice TV into suspending 2 news commentators and a cartoonist

Voice TV station has decided to suspend Wake Up News commentators Sirote Klampaiboon and Viroj Ali and cartoonist Sia from 17 September to 17 October.

Prateep Kongsib, the Director of Voice TV, later made a statement through his personal Facebook account.  “If there are no changes at all, Voice TV’s situation will be in a dangerous spot,” since “those with power” to decide its fate are strongly dissatisfied with the analysis and criticisms of the two commentators and the Wake Up cartoons.

The Voice TV Director explained his decision by saying that “he had to force himself to suffer this pain to support the organisation in the future”.

 “We still believe what Voice TV did is the freedom to carry out the duty of the mass media within a democratic system and did not violate any law. The only reason it’s wrong is because it wasn’t to the liking of those in power. In the end, we still reserve the right to fight in the judicial process,” Prateep stated.

On Monday (17 September), Viroj Ali, in an interview with Khaosod English, stated that the NBTC accused him and the other commentator of prejudice and talking too much about Thaksin Shinawatra. The NBTC did not provide options but said that the station has repeatedly committed offences and threatened to revoke their license.

According to data from iLaw based on NBTC meeting reports, since the coup on 22 May 2014, the NBTC has penalized Voice TV no less than 20 times. It is the highest number of punishments among the mass media. The measures taken include 1 talk, 9 warnings, 2 adjustments of content, 2 broadcasting suspensions for 7 days, 1 suspension of commentators for 10 days, 1 suspension of commentators for 7 days and a 50,000 baht fine, 1 suspension of the whole station for 7 days, 1 suspension of programmes for 15 days and 2 suspensions of programmes for 3 days.

For 7 days from 27 March to 2 April 2017, the NBTC ordered Voice TV's license suspended, forcing the whole station off the air. The NBTC claimed that Voice TV had repeatedly offended by providing information leading to confusion, and provoking and instigating conflict and dissension in society.

In March 2018, the NBTC suspended “Tonight Thailand” for 15 days and in July 2018, ordered the suspension of “The Daily Dose” and “Wake Up News” for 3 days.

The NBTC is an agency with the authority and responsibility to control and penalize TV stations. It has 11 members, with NTC (National Telecommunication Commission) responsible for telecommunications operations and NBC (National Broadcasting Commission) responsible for broadcasting and television.

NBC has a sub-committee overseeing content and programming, which looks after the content of all television channels. They have the power to inflict various penalties:

1. Written warnings

2. 50,000-500,000 baht fines

3. License suspension (temporary closure of a station)

4. License withdrawal (permanent closure of a station)

This power is exercised under Article 37 of the 2008 Broadcasting and Television Businesses Act which states "broadcasting of programmes containing any content that brings about the overthrow of the democratic form of government with the King as head of state or affects state security, public order or the good morals of the people, or constitutes obscenity or has the effect of causing serious deterioration of the people's minds or health shall be prohibited."

The NBTC has the power to order appropriate changes and even "suspension or withdrawal of the license" to broadcast.

In addition, after the coup d’état, the NCPO issued many announcements to control the media.  NCPO Announcement No. 97/2014 prohibits all persons and media from interviewing academics, former government officials and members of independent organisations in a manner that could lead to conflict or violence and bans criticism of the operations of the National Council of Peace and Order, National Council of Peace and Order officers and related persons. In the case of a violation, the dissemination shall be suspended immediately and the officer/official, as determined by law, shall proceed to take legal action.

After severe criticism by the media, NCPO Announcement No. 103/2014 amended Announcement No. 97, allowing the media to criticise some of the operations of the NCPO but not in bad faith so as to destroy the NCPO’s credibility with false information. In the case of a violation, the offence will be reported to the professional organisation for ethical investigation.

Also NCPO Announcement No. 27/2014 allowed 23 digital TV channels to air normally after being shut down under martial law immediately after the coup, with the exception of Voice TV among the digital television channels and TNews among the satellite channels. These two channels were allowed to broadcast almost a month later than other channels.

After the coup, NCPO Announcement No. 15/2014 also resulted in the suspension of satellite television channels, cable channels, digital TV channels and community radio stations, including Voice TV. Before they were able to air again, they had to sign a joint agreement or MoU specifically with the NCPO stating that, in addition to refraining from content that violated NCPO Announcements No. 97/2014 and 103/2014, they have the duty to publicise news and information as provided by the NCPO. In the case of a violation, their license may be revoked.