By Pravit Rojanaphruk
Senior Staff Writer
BANGKOK — The launch of twice daily three-minute TV and radio spots by the junta providing positive, one-sided information has prompted its critics to call for equal airtime for its opponents.
Critics of the junta-sponsored draft charter say that by spoon-feeding the public with the 8am and 6pm broadcasts, the promised referendum will be less than free and fair if opponents are not allowed to air critical views in the months leading up to the promised plebiscite.
Chiang Mai University law lecturer Somchai Preechasilpakul said the junta’s three-minute TV and radio spots, which began Wednesday and run through Feb. 15 on all free-to-air TV and radio stations, means the junta has publicly become the official sponsor of the draft charter.
“This time round, those in power have jumped forward to act as the official sponsor [to approve the draft charter in the referendum],” Somchai said.
The law expert said although he wished time would also be allotted to its opponents, it’s “unlikely to happen.” Somchai warned that this could undermine the legitimacy of the referendum, slated for July.
Rangsiman Rome, a leader in the New Democracy Movement and graduate law student at Thammasat University, said his group is ready to present the negative side of the draft charter on national TV.
“We’re ready to go on air, but nobody has contacted us,” Rangsiman said.
The pro-charter program, “Unveiling the New Constitution,” has already featured Norachit Sinhaseni, a spokesman for junta-appointed charter drafting committee and there’s no sign anyone critical of the draft charter will be allowed to speak on the program.
“Thai free-to-air TV really has no space for those who think differently about the draft charter,” Rangsiman said, saying that in his opinion the climate for a free and fair vote now is worse than that of Chile under Pinochet.
Rangsiman said the military government should try to be impartial when it comes to handling the process leading to the referendum, especially considering the fact it will be funded by taxpayers. “It’s clear the National Council for Peace and Order is now campaigning [for people] to endorse the charter draft,” said Rangsiman, referring to the formal name of the junta.
This came as the junta abruptly decided to ban a scheduled discussion on the draft charter at the National Institute of Development Administration on Thursday.
Former Election Commissioner Gothom Arya said it’s necessary that space be allowed for criticism of the draft charter, “otherwise it would be akin to shutting the ears and eyes [of the public] and ramming through one-sided information.”
Gothom said there are many groups who want to air differing views regarding the draft charter such as academics and professional groups and they should be given the opportunity to do so on a special TV program as well.