Thai government seizes last independent broadcaster

New York, March 6, 2007 — The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned by the Thai government’s decision today to take control of iTV, Thailand’s only privately owned and managed television news station.

The takeover was expected after the government announced last week it would terminate iTV’s license on Tuesday – the deadline for paying nearly 100 billion baht (US$2.8billion) in fines, unpaid broadcasting license fees and interest. The seizure of iTV puts all six Thai broadcasters under government control.

Dhipavadee Meksawan, a minister in the prime minister’s office, told reporters the station would be closed starting Wednesday, but could resume broadcasts as early as Friday if government legal experts could resolve legal issues for the transition to new ownership.

“We are alarmed that Thailand’s sole independent broadcaster has been taken into government hands and silenced,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Thailand needs independent media to establish itself as a viable democracy.”

The station had been created with a mandate to air independent news and views, but softened its content with less critical news reporting and more entertainment programming. iTV was once controlled by Thaksin Shinawatra, the prime minister ousted in a September coup.

The network is part of Thaksin’s former telecommunications empire, Shin Corp., which was sold to the Singapore government’s investment arm, Temasek Holdings, in January 2006. The Thai government is investigating several aspects of the deal, which was at the center of a political crisis that led to Thaksin’s ouster. The deal drew widespread protests, with critics saying it was structured to avoid taxes and that it placed strategic assets—such as communications satellites owned by subsidiary Shin Satellites—in the hands of foreigners.