Voice TV Deepens Self-Censorship by Cutting Political Coverage

From left, hosts Chuwat Rerksirisuk, Nattakorn Devakula and Sirote Klampaiboon, in a 2015 promotional image for Voice TV's Wake Up News program.

BANGKOK — A major broadcaster confirmed Tuesday it will reduce and tone down its political commentary after government regulators suspended one of its popular news program for one week.

Voice TV’s news director confirmed the channel will voluntarily take such measures one day after the National Broadcasting and Telecommunication Commission, or NBTC, ordered Wake Up News off the air for allegedly affecting state security and the “good morale of society.”

“We’ll reduce political news and increase sections like society, economics and foreign news,” news director Prateep Kongsib said Tuesday of their revised editorial priorities. “We won’t be able to criticize intensely, fully.”

Read: Voice TV Pressured to Pull Pundits For Rattling Junta

The order to pull Wake Up News off the air, effective Thursday, came despite Voice TV’s own act of appeasement two weeks earlier, when it voluntarily suspended one of the show’s hosts and a frequent commentator from some or all appearances.

Some of six program hosts of Wake Up News, the program accused of breaching an agreement with the NBTC by showing bias, warned the junta is trying to curb press freedoms through an intermediary by making it a regulatory issue.

For its part, the NBTC said the show affected state security and the good morale of society in three news items this month.

Voice TV is a digital channel owned by Panthongtae Shinawatra, son of ousted and fugitive former premier Thaksin Shinawatra.

Prateep said the station decided to accept the punishment instead of petitioning for relief in the Administrative Court because of the “widespread adverse business impact” it is already having on the station. “It’s about the confidence of the customers, who place commercials. This time we quickly informed our customers right away.”

Voice TV's popular Wake Up News program was removed from a revised programming schedule published Tuesday morning.
Voice TV’s popular Wake Up News program was removed from a revised programming schedule published Tuesday morning.

Prateep accused the junta of having a direct role in the punishment, citing a representative of the National Council for Peace and Order in the meeting.

“This time the punishment was heavy because there was someone from the media section of the NCPO present to give his views at the level of the NBTC sub-committee [meeting],” Prateep said. Prateep said the shows six hosts will return to the air after the week is up and a temporary news program will fill the slot during the period.

Here are the three matters called out by the NBTC:

First were comments on the attacks earlier this month in seven southern provinces. Second, the NBTC said sympathy was expressed an activist and junta critic being prosecuted in military court, Jatupat Boonpattaraksa, aka Pai Dao Din. Third, a segment on junta-appointed lawmakers’ attempt to reinterpret the second referendum question to allow the unelected senate to nominate a possibly unelected PM.

Free speech activist and NBTC board member Supinya Klangnarong tweeted Monday that she believes the station made no such damage as alleged. She added however that comments made by TV hosts could be deemed as taking sides.

“The weakness of the Wake Up News program is in presenting news that is infused with personal views, so it is seen as clearly taking sides. But it’s not against state security or good morale,” tweeted Supinya, who was the only board member to vote against the punishment in a 3-1 decision.

North Korean Model?

Chuwat Rerksirisuk, one of the six hosts of the program, which aired between 7am and 9am Monday through Friday, said the selling point of the program was news commentary based on critical thought.

Chuwat said he and the station has no choice but to be accommodating as a result, however.

“We will look at [the junta] in more sympathetic light, to see how we would think if we were in the NCPO’s shoes and on the basis that they have good intentions,” Chuwat said.

Virot Ali, another commentator on the program warned however that the junta is pushing Thailand toward a North Korean or Myanmar-of-the-past model.

“If the media is a mouthpiece of the government and supports the government, then there’s no need [for other stations]. Just shut them all down and only have state controlled-channels like in Myanmar or North Korea,” Virot said.

Virot added that it appears the junta is trying to be more restrictive in controlling the media. “They’re comfortable in exercising autocratic power.”

It was a second punishment for program host Nattakorn Devakula this month. One of Voice TV’s most recognizable talents, he was suspended from some programs including Wake Up News for 10 days by the station in a failed bid to stave off further action by the NBTC.

“There is not much that we can do but to comply since they have the upper hand,” Nattakorn said. “That includes self-censoring and adjustment in the mood and tone of the commentary programs. The reality of the situation is that the NBTC hold the implicit threat of shutting down any television network. In addition, we have a paranoid bully as prime minister who guides over the regulator.”

Sirote Klampaiboon, yet another host of the program, said a clear if troublesome signal was being sent.

“This is a worrying new standard in media control,” Sirote said.