Media critics look into irregularity of Thailand Public Broadcasting management and warn of its freedom as Thailand’s last independent media body.
The process for selection of new director of Thai PBS, Thailand’s first and only public broadcast organization with an annual 2,000-million baht earmarked tax funding, is a key issue needed public attention.
Apart from Thai PBS’ internal problems on lack of transparency on director selection process and media professionalism, there is a tendency that it will be controlled by the Thai military junta- government. It is a tough task ahead for the new coming chief, critics say.
On May 16, 2017, a discussion entitled “THAI PBS director selection procedure…Complicate or Secretive?”, held by Media Inside Out, aims to look into the issue as it turns 10 years this year. The panelists included Hathairat Phaholtap, a Thai PBS reporter; Chakkrish Permpool, former president of the National Press Council of Thailand; and Atukkit Sawangsuk, independent columnist and social critic. The discussed was moderated by a leading media scholar and co-founder of MIO, Assoc. Prof. Ubonrat Siriyuvasak.
Section 32 (3) of Thai PBS Act BE 2551 (2008), dealing with the director-general’s qualifications, says the candidate “shall have knowledge, skill or experience in radio or television broadcasting or mass communications”.
“Presently, there are two favorites out of the eight candidates. But, no one has questioned as to whether their qualifications fit,” says Hathairat. In the past Hathairat did not pay much attention on the director selection process but after having an experience about the member of the Board of Governors’ appointment of the last director, she has been provocative on the issue. Last year, she and a group of Thai PBS employees expressed concern that the new director’s qualifications may not match those specified by the act.
Greater Transparency Needed
A point worth mentioning is that in the 2017 regulations for TPBS director’s qualifications, there is an additional criterion requiring that the director must have at least one-year experience in an educational institution management as a dean.
“This requirement does not exist in the 2015 regulation. Does this mean they have already has someone in mind?” Hathairat questions.
“Rumors about “Lock Spec”, (a Thai slang for specifying something for a certain person or cronyism) would be lessened if the selection committee is willing to welcome questions and comments,” the reporter adds.
Section 51 of the Act requires that at least every 10 years its income and spending be revised, Hathariat adds. “Among challenging tasks of the new coming director are to revise the Act and to deal with the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s attempt to control, which is a critical to Thai PBS’ survival.”
“The selection process should be transparent, and participatory,” Assoc. Prof. Ubonrat Siriyuvasak advises. “Some people demand for a more open process and the candidates to announce their policies.”
Thailand’s Last Independent Media Body, An Endangered Species
“All media are now under the state control, directly or indirectly. The National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), which is supposed to be independent, is no exception. Thai PBS is our last independent media organization and the public need to pay special attention to it,” urges former president of the National Press Council of Thailand, Chakkrish Permpool.
The problems of THAI PBS are rooted in the Act, with idealistic missions, which are hardly practical, points out Chakkrish, who used to play a role in the selection of the Board of Governors. In addition, communication problems exist between the Board of Governors and the last two directors, he observes.
Speakers, from left to right, Hathairat Phaholtap, Chakkrish Permpool, Atukkit Sawangsuk, and Ubonrat Siriyuvasak.
Media Professionalism and Brand Positioning Required
Lack of Media Professionalism is another major challenge confronting Thai PBS. “Some influential members of the policy committee lack clear understanding about public media and Thai PBS’ brand positioning, comments Chakkirsh. “The station does not have to compete with Workpoint (Entertainment). However, it does not mean that all of the programs must be NGOs’ programs, either.”
Assoc. Prof. Ubonrat agrees, “Thai PBS has always been questioned about its positioning. Who are the station’s target audiences? Channel 3 is widely known for making soaps for urban people while Channel 7 is famous for making soaps for upcountry people.”
Thai PBS represents certain groups of NGOs, says Atukkit. “It is an “NGOs TV”, which lacks understanding on media professionalism. I am not against an NGOs TV. It is good to present people’s problems but the problem is how to present the stories in such a way that they attract large public audiences, and not only NGOs’ own groups.”
Unity among the Board of Governors is Key
Atukkit views that Thai PBS is bound to have the same problems albeit the new director and that the new director will continue to face difficult tasks. “During the last two director’s periods, there was no unity among the Board of Governors. Unlike the first set of the Board of Governors, under the helm of the first director Thepchai Yong, who worked successfully in unity.”
Running a state-funded station is much more difficult than running a private-owned one, he adds. “You need to have media professionalism and good managing skill. To manage a 2,000-million baht budget is tough when you do not have a clear plan in the first place. It would be a problem when the inexperienced manage finance for outsourcing works.” He cites for example that 4 million baht per episode of “Mom” (adapted from a novel by M.R. Kukrit Pramoj), was proposed, which is much higher than the cost of an episode of soaps on Channel 3.