iLaw Sues to Get ‘One-Sided’ Referendum Show Taken Off Air

Screencap of the intro music to the Election Commission’s show “August 7, the Referendum That Binds All Hearts.”

BANGKOK — Legal reform advocates sued elections officials today over a state-produced TV show they say has been entirely devoted to praising the proposed constitution that will soon be put to public referendum.

As the Election Commission’s referendum program has so far only featured proponents of the new charter, law reform activists said it’s guilty of violating its own draconian campaign law and overstepping its mandate as an impartial organizer of the Aug. 7 poll.

“We want the show removed because it’s not neutral, and it violates the Election Commission’s own regulations,” said Yingcheep Atchanont, a coordinator of the Internet Law Reform Dialogue, or iLaw.

The suit, filed in Administrative Court on Wednesday, demands the show be taken off the air.

It’s iLaw’s second legal challenge to the Election Commission. On June 29 the Constitutional Court dismissed a lawsuit brought by the group which sought to overturn the commission’s referendum law that has been used to arrest those campaigning against the charter. The law stipulates jail terms for any members of the commission found to act impartially.

The effusively titled show, “August 7, the Referendum That Binds All Hearts,” runs on all state-owned TV and radio stations for 30 minutes every Monday and Wednesday. A final is to air the day before the public goes to vote.

Election Commissioner Somchai Srisutthiyakorn said in response to the suit that his body was not responsible for the guest lineup.

“Each station was instructed to invite speakers and opinionated people from the two sides,” Somchai said at a news conference. “The [commission] will not interfere.”

He also defended the impartiality of the program, saying the final guest list includes representatives from both sides.

Yet so far, only members of the Election Commission, the charter’s drafters and junta-appointed members of the interim legislature have appeared on the three episodes aired since it started June 27.

The June 29 episode “What will people receive from the new constitution?” featured two guests discussing for 30 minutes the reforms the charter will being in many fields, such as health and education.

Wednesday evening’s episode was to feature Chulalongkorn University lecturer and land rights activist Prapart Pintobtang, the first guest not associated with the pro-charter camp.

The episode may be pre-empted by a women’s volleyball game.

A representative from the opposition Pheu Thai Party, which has urged supporters to reject the charter, won’t appear until July 27.

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