Digital bills 'will affect' media reform

Digital bills 'will affect' media reform
A security official walks at the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission office in Bangkok.

Media academics are warning that the proposed set of Digital Economy Bills would interfere with media development and reform, especially that of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC).

Time Chuastapanasiri, a researcher at Media Monitor and the Thai Public Broadcasting Service (Thai PBS), said the NBTC bills were considered an obstruction to future development and reform of the media.

The NBTC Bill would place NBTC under the government's authority since the NBTC Bill determined NBTC's policies that must conform to the plans of the National Digital Commission for the Economy and Society, which is chaired by the prime minister.

That would mean destroying the NBTC as the independent regulator of broadcasting and the telecommunication industry, he said.

Meanwhile, Article 7 in the NBTC Bill determines that broadcasting businesses must "inform" and "submit" their [executive] summary report to the National Digital Commission for the Economy and Society. That would mean the National Digital Commission for the Economy and Society becoming a regulator as well.

Allocation vs auction

And, Article 9 in the NBTC Bill, stipulates a new commercial spectrum allocation by a "selection process," unlike the existing NBTC law, which obliges the allocation of broadcasting and telecom spectra for commercial use by means of auction only. Time's concern was that the allocation method by a selection process might be determined as a selection method by any criteria.

"This would destroy media reform since the National Digital Commission for the Economy and Society would have power over the free market [of broadcasting and telecommunication]," said Time.

One more point of concern, Time added - Articles 12, 13, 14 and 15 in the NBTC Bill, mention revoking the Broadcasting and Telecommunications Research and Development Fund for the Public Interest, transferring assets and money from this fund to the Digital Economy Development Fund.

It also determines transferring [further] NBTC's revenue and funds to the Digital Economy Development Fund as well.

"This new fund is manipulated by the National Digital Commission for the Economy and Society's agency [National Digital Agency for the Economy and Society] with the authority to use these funds for loans. This money should be |used for broadcasting and telecommunication research and development for the public benefit," said Time.

He said this bill made NBTC difficult to regulate since real power would belong to the National Digital Commission for the Economy.

"This bill involves large amounts of money and regulation of broadcasting and telecommunication that would impact on media liberty and rights. The bill would give the government or the Army power over the broadcasting and telecommunication industry as it was in the past. It means media reform was failing," said Time.

Uajit Virojtrairatt, chairperson of the Civil Media Development Institute (CMDR), said the bills were drawn up to reform resources sharing and management in the broadcasting and telecommunication industry.

This reform uses digital [technology] and economy as its goal. But the way to reach that goal is through security.

This reform makes media reform turn backward to be under the government, contradicting the principles of media reform.

The NBTC Bill gives the government the priority while putting down the civilian role as a minority permitted to "get" and "receive" benefits from [broadcasting and telecommunication] resources, rather than being able to "operate" the resources.

"The impacts will affect to the whole media industry. People would have less chance to become media operators. The bills also do not commit to protecting consumer's rights," said Uajit.

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