Coup leaders mull plans to save Thai TV channel

By Pracha Hariraksapitak

BANGKOK, Dec 14 (Reuters) – Thai coup leaders may save broadcaster ITV PCL, once owned by the family firm of deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, from bankruptcy and turn it into a BBC-type station after it lost a last legal battle.

ITV, now owned indirectly by the Singapore government’s Temasek Holdings and facing a $2.75 billion fine for breach of contract, should be independent of government and not used the way Thaksin did, Air Force chief Chalit Phukphasuk said.

“Personally I’d like to see ITV become another BBC. I want to see ITV as Thailand’s best news organisation and not belonging to any particular group or family,” Chalit told reporters late on Wednesday.

ITV, founded 10 years ago and meant to be free from state interference, was regarded as part of Thaksin’s public relations machine after Shin Corp, the telecoms firm he started, bought a major stake in it in 2001.

On Wednesday, ITV lost its final appeal in a fight with the government when the Supreme Administrative Court ruled it had broken its contract by emphasising entertainment over news.

On Thursday the government ordered ITV, which had revenues of 2 billion baht last year, to pay 97 billion baht ($2.75 billion) in retroactive fees and fines within 45 days. (article19’s note: US$2.75 billion is about S$4.2 billion)

It was preparing a civil lawsuit to pursue the claim if the broadcaster failed to pay up, senior official Julayut Hiranyawasit told reporters.

Chalit said the military leaders would invite ITV to discuss a solution, adding that options included a reversion of ownership to the state and allowing new investors to take it over.

“ITV won’t disappear from Thailand because it is a very useful organisation. We won’t make a thousand ITV staff jobless,” he said.

ITV is 53 percent owned by Shin Corp, which Temasek has controlled since Thaksin’s family sold it control of Shin in January.

Temasek, which has seen the value of Shin Corp fall 40 percent since it paid $3.8 billion for it, declined comment on the court verdict against ITV.

Shares in the broadcaster dropped 25 percent after the court verdict on Wednesday and fell the daily 30 percent limit on Thursday to an all-time low of 1.47 baht.