Bangkok, Thailand - Early this year, Thailand launched its own Public Broadcasting System (PBS), making it a pioneer in the Asia-Pacific region. A PBS is a non-profit media organisation that produces public interest and service-oriented programmes. It is independent even as it is supported by public funds.
The Thai PBS has emerged from a tenuous process, with the the highly controversial iTV as its precursor. At the tail end of the 90s, the Thai government established an independent television, known as iTV, whose purpose was to broadcast largely news and educational programmes. To ensure its independence and transparency, 10 companies were awarded 10 per cent stake each. But it did not take a while before one of the shareholders, the Thai Commercial Bank gave up its shares. In the end former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra accumulated more than 50 per cent of the shares. Thaksin later sold iTV to the Singaporean investment firm Temasek. The changes in ownership were later scrutinised, with Thaksin being found to have evaded millions worth of taxes.
iTV remained one of Thaksin's assets sequestered by the military, following the 2006 coup de tat. As the station was wasting, a handful of media practitioners hatched the idea of transforming iTV into a PBS. As the country was then under Martial Law, the think tank Thailand Development Research Institute began drafting a bill on the PBS.
Unlike the decade-struggle of media advocates to have broadcasting laws approved, the proposed PBS was decided by the Supreme Court in less than a year.
While the PBS has been a much awaited development among media practitioners in Thailand and the Asia Pacific region, its beginnings and sustainability continue to be questioned. Dr. Uajit Vitrojtrairatt, executive director of the Civil Media Development Institute (CMDI) admitted that there remains a number of media advocates who criticize the PBS for being a product of an illegitimate political regime.
“Media practitioners have different views. No media law should be implemented during this coup de tat because it is undemocratic. I value democracy and I feel ashamed of the coup de tat. But we have been waiting for 10 years. We rallied. I even slept on the street. Within that period, nothing came from a democratic government,” Vitrojtrairatt pointed out.
Although the budget of PBS is protected from any interventions of the office of the prime minister nor the parliament, eyebrows are nonetheless raised on the PBS' source of funds: sin taxes. Under the law, the PBS may receive 1.5 per cent of tax revenues from alcohol and tobacco but not exceeding 20 billion Baht per year (US$ 597,810,102).
Vitrojtrairatt has just accepted a seat on the PBS Council, a position which she initially refused when it was offered to her early this year.