Thai government takes over Temasek’s ITV

January 14, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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AFP
http://afp.google.com/article/ALeqM5gotffBDyrMZgwDD7YwTLuj80Mz_Q

Thailand’s military-installed government Tuesday finalised its takeover of the nation’s only private television station, replacing its regular programming with documentaries about the royal family.

The government took control of ITV in March last year and had allowed it to remain on air with its normal programming.

But on Tuesday, regular shows were yanked as a new law took effect giving the government power to completely overhaul the station into a commercial-free public broadcaster.

ITV is one of the most visible casualties of the military’s effort to stamp out the legacy of ousted prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, whose telecom firm Shin Corp once owned a 53 percent stake in the station.

Thaksin’s family sold Shin Corp to Singapore’s state-linked Temasek Holdings two years ago, in a deal that sparked a public uproar eventually leading to the coup in September 2006.

After the coup, the TV station lost a court battle over how much news content it was required to provide, and was slapped with a 100 billion baht (three billion dollar) penalty.

When the station failed to pay, the government took it over and renamed it Thailand Independent Television (TITV).

Dhipawadee Meksawan, the minister attached to the prime minister’s office, said a new board of directors would be charged with creating programming for the station, which she said would be modelled after the BBC.

“Public broadcast media is meant to enhance the nation’s morals and ethics. I want society to give this a chance because public broadcasting is unprecedented in Thailand,” she told reporters.

The takeover sparked an outcry among the station’s 800 staff, whose futures were left in doubt, while shareholders have threatened legal action.

Press freedom groups also worry that the takeover will destroy what little independent reporting exists on the nation’s airwaves, which are controlled largely by the military and the government.