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JAMCO Online International Symposium

18th JAMCO Online International Symposium

January 16 to February 28, 2009

Public-Service Broadcasts of Asian Countries

Presentation 2: Public Service Broadcasting in Thailand

Supanee Nitsmer
Assistant Professor, Dept. of Mass Communication, Ramkhamhaeng University, Bangkok

1. The Establishment

Many issues raised and points made concerning social problems in Thailand agreeably nationwide had been influenced by improper television broadcasting programs. Many proposed to create TV program services for the public. Eventually, it came to a conclusion that there were three possible alternatives as follows:

  • 1-1. establishing a new television station with an annual budget of 2,000 million baht, allocated by the government, or
  • 1-2. transforming TV Channel 11, affiliated with the Office of the Prime Minister (currently named as NBT- National Broadcasting Services of Thailand), to be a public broadcasting service, or
  • 1-3. transforming TITV (Thailand Independent Television)1, a private television channel, taken over by the government, to be a public broadcasting service.

The government decided to transform TITV to be a public broadcasting service channel, called Thai PBS (Thai Public Broadcasting Service) by enacting Thai Public Broadcasting Organization Act of 2008. Transformation was arranged according to the Act. The cabinet appointed a founding committee consisting of five members to take control of TITV and oversee the transformation. Thai PBS took over the assets, liabilities and the ownership of the TITV frequency.

2. The State of Thailand’s Current Broadcasting Media

2.1 Free Television
In 1952, Thailand established Thai Television Company Limited (Thai TV Channel 4), the first TV station in Southeast Asia, under the Office of the Prime Minister. Later Thai Television Company faced financial difficulties. It was then transformed into MCOT (Mass Communication Organization of Thailand), known as TV Channel 9, by enacting the royal decree in 1977. In 2004, TV Channel 9 was privatized under the State Enterprise Corporatization Act of 1999 to be MCOT PCL. (Mass Communication Organization of Thailand, Public Company Limited), listed on the Stock Exchange of Thailand (SET).

TV Channel 9 strives to become a knowledge-based channel, producing up-to-date news, documentaries and edutainment programs. However, being a profit-making public enterprise, Channel 9 has to be commercial oriented on the one hand and public service on the other. Channel 9 and Channel 3 (to be mentioned next) are terrestrial broadcasting televisions with the same 32 relay stations nationwide.

TV Channel 3, established in 1970, was supervised by the authority of TV Channel 9. It was rented out to Bangkok Entertainment Company Limited, a private entertainment company that runs commercial oriented programs.

TV Channel 5, established in 1957, with 31 relay stations, is owned and operated by the Royal Thai Army, but its air-time is sold to several sub-contractors, who view themselves as profit-oriented businesses. TV Channel 7, established in 1967, owned by the Royal Thai Army was rented out to Bangkok Broadcasting & Television Company Limited. Channel 7 installed its ground network stations in provincial areas and expanded its facilities recently totaling 35 relay stations.

On 15 January 1985, the Thai cabinet approved the establishment of Television of Thailand, TV Channel 11, to promote education and public relations campaigns for the state, without commercial advertisements. With this clear-cut mission, the station got a lot of support from many organizations, both local and international. The Japanese government alone donated two billion yen for the buildings and equipment.2 Under the incumbent government (2008), TV Channel 11, with its 32 relay stations, was renamed NBT(National Broadcasting Services of Thailand) and a large share of air time was leased to private companies. Thai PBS, the first public service broadcasting television of Thailand, was officially launched on 14 January 2008. It has 40 relay stations.

2.2 Subscription Television
Usually subscription TV is broadcast by using not only cable or fiber optic, but also satellite and IPTV (Internet Protocol TV) if needed. True Visions (formerly United Broadcasting Corporation Public Company Limited: UBC) is a major channel providing an array of services to subscribers in major cities all over the kingdom of Thailand. There are about 520,000 clients. True Visions operates under a 25 year build-transfer-operate (BTO) concession issued by the Mass Communication Organization of Thailand, which is due to expire in September 2014. In provincial areas, there are about 520 companies operating subscription TV businesses. It is estimated that 1.5-2 million subscribers have an access to subscription television in Thailand.3

2.3 Satellite Television
There are many television stations in Thailand that broadcast by satellite, such as ASTV (Asia Satellite TV), DMC (Dhamma Media Channel), and TGN (Thai TV Global Network). Receiving satellite signal is free of charge, but the viewers have to install a satellite dish. The average price of dish is 6,000-30,000 baht. Since the average household income of Thais is 180,000 baht a year, not many households can afford the satellite channel directly. Some cable televisions operators receive the satellite signal and extend it to their clientele.

2.4 IPTV
IPTV (Internet Protocol Television) is a multimedia form in which picture, sound and data are interactively transmitted 24 hours. IPTV is an on-demand television and will be widespread in the near future.

2.5 Radio Stations
There are about 524 radio stations in Thailand4, conceded or governed by government organizations and state-owned enterprises (SOEs). Three radio networks are (1) Radio Thailand under NBT, (2) MCOT radio network, and (3) the army radio network. Most radio stations are conceded under 2-year term contract for commercial purposes. Besides the above-mentioned, there are 3,500 community radio stations all over Thailand5. The National Telecommunications Commission’s rule states that the transmitting power of community radio stations may cover the broadcasting area not exceeding the radius of 15 kilometers. Thus, only the area surrounding the station can receive the wave/signal, and the antenna arrays must not disturb each other. In practice, however, noise disturbance has occurred.

In 2005, Kasikornthai Bank Research Institute 6 estimated that the value of radio broadcasting business was about 7,350 million baht and was up 5 per cent from the previous year.

Because of very high competitive business, many stations give much weight to entertainment programs, coupled with indirect or hidden advertising to boost ratings and income. The disturbance of radio signal/wave appears prevalently. On 1 October 2004, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) was formed under the Organization of Allocating Frequency and Regulating Radio and TV Broadcasting and Telecommunications Services Act of 2000.7 The commission since then can fully exercises its authority as Thailand’s telecommunication regulator, pursuant to the provisions of the act, by assigning radio-frequency spectrum and regulating the sound broadcasting, television broadcasting and telecommunications services.

Four years since the establishment of NTC, radio and TV broadcasting stations are doing their business as they used to do. By law, the NTC has authority to reallocate wave frequency and regulate this business in a proper manner. Since it is a hugely profitable business and the concession right still belongs to the above-mentioned government organizations and SOEs, they try to exploit this interest as long as possible. The advent of advanced technologies has attracted more entrepreneurs entering into this business by opening new radio and TV stations. In order to effectively restructure and reform radio, TV and telecommunication businesses in Thailand in response to global dynamics, the NTC has to clean up the old mess on the one hand and tackle new emerging issues on the other.

2.6 Newspapers
The print media are largely owned and operated by private companies. Newspapers are quite independent, and mostly private-run. There are 35 newspapers in Bangkok, 55 on-line newspapers. Well-known English language papers are Bangkok Post and The Nation, while popular Thai language papers are Thairath and Matichon. There are one or two daily local newspapers in every province of Thailand.

3.Current Status of Thai PBS

So far, there have been six free TV stations in Thailand*. Four are mainstream that broadcast on a commercial basis. One is a government public relation device. The latest is Thai PBS.

*Current free television stations in Thailand are as follows:
TV Channel 3: Bangkok Entertainment Company Limited
TV Channel 5: Royal Thai Army Television
TV Channel 7: Bangkok Broadcasting & Television Company Limited
TV Channel 9: Mass Communication Organization of Thailand Public Company Limited
TV Channel 11 or NBT: National Broadcasting Services of Thailand
Thai PBS: Thai Public Broadcasting Service Organization

3.1 Definitions
PSB (Public Service Broadcasting) is one of the most important instruments for promoting citizens’ democratic participation. However, the concept and idea of PSB is often not well understood or sometimes even misunderstood.

Aidan White8, International Federation of Journalists, said that “though there is no single model of public service broadcasting, we all believe in shared values”:
– PSB is about people. It provides programs to national audiences, including all minorities and sections of society, which very often are not catered for by the commercial sector. It operates through an accountable and transparent structure of management, supported by public funds;
– PSB, operating through all forms of media, is also about quality, reliability and independence. It provides a broad range of opinions, whether in education, news and information or cultural and entertainment programming, all of which are ethical and professional in content and sensitive to citizens’ needs and values.
– PSB is about setting standards for fairness at work, social justice and protection for journalists and all who work in the industry.

Thailand has learned the PSB model from BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), NHK (Nippon Hoso Kyokai/ Japanese Broadcasting Corporation) and others, and later formed a typical PSB model for Thai society.

Somchai Suwanbun9 said that BBC is not only a broadcasting organization but also a cultural institute for incubating new writers and artists, a classroom on air, a national museum, and a center of trust in the midst of crises. Whenever there emerge threats against public security, BBC is the forum for public debate and disseminating facts to citizens and also as a producer to export intellectual and cultural goods.Recently, BBC has played a crucial role as a “locomotive” to pull British society into the digital era.

For Thailand, the meaning of PSB might be derived from the rationale for enacting the Thai PBS Organization Act10 :
  • to be a leader in producing high-quality broadcasting programs accessible to the public nationwide;

  • to provide factual and neutral news;

  • to upgrade people’s learning in all sections of Thai society in response to the changing world;

  • to develop the quality of Thai life;

  • to build a sustainable citizenship and society through information and knowledge services;

  • to be a leader in disseminating knowledge, Thailand’s culture and traditions that promote uniqueness of Thais and their pride in the nation, language, culture and locality;

  • to encourage and support independent producers to make high-quality and creative TV programs.

3.2 Status
Since Thai PBS is a non-commercial service channel, it deserves to get a subsidy, presently equivalent to 1.5 per cent of the taxes collected from liquor and tobacco each year, but not exceeding 2 billion baht for each fiscal year. This amount will be revised every three years. Thai PBS’s income is also obtained from donations and brand royalty fees but it must be independent from politics and commercial influences.

3.3 The Thai PBS Mission
Based on the Thai PBS Organization Act11, its main missions are as follows:

(1) to broadcast radio and TV programs to underpin social development, the quality of life and morality of Thainess;

(2) to proportionately and suitably produce high-quality news, education and entertainment programs for the public without political bias and commercial interests;

(3) to promote the freedom of information exposure so as to build a democratic society where people equitably access to such information;

(4) to directly and indirectly encourage people’s participation in determining the direction of Thai PBS;

(5) to support public activities.

4. Thai PBS Organization Management and Services

4.1 The Committee
Complying with the Thai PBS Organization Act,12 the cabinet appointed a selective committee.13 Its duty is to select and form the Thai PBS policy committee. The policy committee consists of 9 members. Four are experts in public service, selected from activists in the areas of democracy promotion, community or locality development, child and youth development and protection, and promotion of rights for the disabled. Three come from experts in organization management; the last two are mass communication experts. The first and the present Thai PBS policy committee were selected from candidates nominated by various organizations and agencies. The term is 4 years. Every two years, the term of 4 members will be expired by drawing lots, but they stay on their duties until new members replace them.
The responsibilities of the policy committee are as follows:

(1) Set up the general policy of the organization;

(2) Protect and prevent the executive board of directors, directors and staff to be free from any interference;

(3) Consider implementation plan and broadcasting schedule;

(4) Consider the organization budget;

(5) Promote research for program development;

(6) Set up an organization accountability;

(7) Set up administrative regulations such as finance, budget, assets, personnel administration;

(8) Select the executive board of directors;

(9) Select and remove the directors;

(10) Design the salary and benefit schemes for the executive board of directors;

(11) Set up a sub-committee to file complaints; and

(12) Make an annual report and present it to the cabinet, and parliament, and disseminate information to the public.

The policy committee oversees the executive board’s conduct and performance. The executive board comprises a president, vice presidents and 4 directors who are reputable experts in mass communications, management, profound social and cultural issues, or who have legal expertise in justice, and do not conduct any business related to Thai PBS activities, except joining Thai PBS by the consent of the policy committee or the executive board. The executive board’s responsibilities are as follows14:

(1) Consider whether the program production fits to the organization’s policy;

(2) Direct Thai PBS to perform according to the procedures and regulations;

(3) Implement Thai PBS affairs and set up the program schedule presented to the policy committee;

(4) Prepare the organizational, personnel and financial matters and the development plan presented to the policy committee;

(5) Pursue the network development master plan; and

(6) Evaluate broadcast programs.

4.2 Financial Administration
Thai PBS broadcasts on a non-commercial basis. To be able to pursue its mission elegantly and professionally, the cabinet committed 340 million baht for a start-up fund. In the medium and long term, Thai PBS’s revenue will obtain from the following sources:15

(1) 1.5 per cent of the tax revenue levied from liquor and tobacco which is capped at 2 billion baht each fiscal year. The money will be given directly to Thai PBS. In case of a shortfall, the Ministry of Finance will add on the needed amount. In case of excess, the extra amount will be returned to the Ministry of Finance. The Ministry of Finance will readjust the budget every 3 year in accordance with economic situation, the previous year’s inflation and Thai PBS’s performance;

(2) Assets, liabilities and frequency rights taken over from TITV;

(3) Customs, service fees or income from other services;

(4) Money or properties from supporting organizations, and in case of donation, this must not influence Thai PBS’s objectives;

(5) Income and profit from copyright and intellectual property rights of the organization; and

(6) Interests on loans or a return on investment of the organization’s properties or organization fund. All financial accounts have to be examined and evaluated on the basis of value of the money, before submitting them to the internal audit committee, the policy committee, and then the National Auditing Office.

4.3 Broadcasting Services
The Thai PBS law was enforced on 14 January 2008. On January 17, at 3:30 pm., there was a life program called “Count One on Thai PBS”. The Thai PBS founding committee was on air to build public awareness about the new TV station. Later, many documentary films occupied the screen. The first program schedule began on 1 February, 2008 during 6:00-12:00 p.m. At 8:00 p.m. the life program was “Creating and Building Thai PBS Together”. It was about public opinion, drawn from myriad ideas concerning the quality of public broadcasting service that would be suitable for The Thai context. From 15 February 2008, the broadcasting time run from 5 a.m. until 12 p.m. In August 2008, the air time was extended to 1 a.m. on weekends, and it will be 24 hours in the near future. There is no rigid regulation imposed on the program schedule. The Thai PBS law does not stipulate the proportion of program types, but only indicates that it should maintains a balance among various types of programs as follows:16

(1) News impacting on the public has to be broadcast rapidly and fairly in the appropriate ratio, especially during prime time;

(2) Critique or commentary programs in which issues are crucia to the public must encourage people to participate and discuss their viewpoints with rationales based on facts and balanced information;

(3) Programs which encourage learning and development of the quality of life, including children and youth programs should be conveniently accessible to the audience;

(4) Sport, recreation, health programs and quality of life programs which promote Thai culture, diversity of Thai culture and uniqueness of the society, including programs for the disabled to show their opinion or propose their appeals; and

(5) Creative edutainment programs encouraging goodness or value of the society and raising the people’s aesthetic awareness.

Thai PBS weekday air time during 25-29 August 2008 was 19 hours and 30 minutes, or 1,170 minutes a day. The weekend of 30-31 August 2008 was 20 hours or 1,200 minutes a day. An analysis of air time corresponding with programs on air is presented in Tables 1 and 2 below.17

Table 1: Types of Thai PBS Programs and Air Time,
Mon 25 – Fri 29 August 2008
Table 1: Types of Thai PBS Programs and Air Time,Mon 25 – Fri 29 August 2008
Source: Compiled by author
Note: Total air time is 1,170 minutes a day (5:00 a.m. – 12:30 a.m. daily).

In Table 1, the major share, nearly 40 per cent of the time is allocated to news reporting, while the second and the third place go to quality of life/sport and documentaries, accounting for 18 and 14 per cent respectively. Thai PBS devoted much of its air time to news reporting and the least time to critique/commentary and children and youth program. This may be because Thai PBS, for the time being, has just been born and has only one channel. In the future, when Thai PBS becomes mature enough, it can increase channels and/or variety of programs, i.e. children’s and documentary programs, etc.

Table 2: Types of Thai PBS Programs and Air Time,
Sat 30- Sun 31 August 2008
Table 2: Types of Thai PBS Programs and Air Time,
Sat 30- Sun 31 August 2008
Source: Compiled by author
Note: Total air time is 1,200 minutes a day (5:00 a.m.-1:00 a.m. daily).

On the weekend, the major share, about 28 per cent of the time was allocated to news reporting, while the second, the third and the fourth place go to quality of life/sport, docutainment, and documentary, standing for 23, 20 and 13 per cent respectively. Comparing the weekday programming with the weekend, it is obvious that the latter is better distributed than the former.

The difference between programs on Thai PBS Channel and other channels is people’s participation. Thai PBS invites its audience to participate both in program content and viewer’s opinion. The followings are sample programs concepts and contents that depict social interaction.

Program Name:”People Station” Air time Mon-Fri (2:05-3:00 p.m.)

This program helps people and is a forum for Thai citizens’ voices. Whoever wants to announce about lost items or persons, legal consultation or complaints or other government public relations, can join.

Program Name:”Thai-mung” Air time Mon-Fri (5:05- 5:55 p.m.)

Thai means Thai people, mung means gathering together. Thus, the TV program objective is to be a forum or a stage for any interesting issue to be disclosed, or discussed, or for exchanging ideas, opinions and knowledge among audience members.

Program name:”Our Family” Air time Sat (5:05-5:55 p.m.)

The program introduces love, warmth and way of life of many families and how these family members treat each other and tackle everyday-life obstacles together.

4.4 Sources of Programs
Half (50.32 per cent) of Thai PBS programs are in-house productions while 26.77 per cent is come from the purchase of copyright. Sponsorship and donations account for 21.78 per cent, while outsourcing is only 1.17 per cent.18 To prevent bias in selection or misconduct, and to encourage and promote independent production houses, the outsourced programs have been selected from the program proposals that were applied/submitted online only. As of 3 September 2008, it was reported that there have been only 18 TV programs selected from 204 submitted proposals.19

Special Program
4.5 The Personnel
Most of the Thai PBS staff have experience. More than 80 per cent were selected from TITV with regard to their areas of specialization, plus attitudes regarding the public television concept.

5. The Thai PBS and Its Viewers

In order to learn viewers’ opinions and needs, coupled with their willingness to participate in enhancing Thai PBS policy, the Thai PBS law20 established an audience council consisting of 50 representatives selected from all regions of Thailand. The council will gather public opinion through organizing a public forum at least once a year. The output of this meeting is the report for improving broadcasting programs. This process is now in progress.

6. Challenges for Public-Service Broadcasting in Thailand

Currently, Thai PBS does not have its own office yet, and still rents the building that used to be the TITV station. The Thai PBS policy committee plans to have its own building within the next four years.

6.1 Broadcasting Program Production
Thai PBS presently operates only TV programs. However, according to the Thai PBS Organization Act21, Thai PBS has to run both radio and TV broadcasting programs on its own network nationwide. The programs have to contain contents that can be recognized and attracting viewers’ feelings and their way of life. This is a very challenging task.

6.2 Accessibility to People
Thai PBS programs have no audience rating yet, like that for commercial TV. In order to get feedback from the audience, Thai PBS is setting up an audience council. In the near future, research and opinion survey, content or program ratings and overall evaluation will be conducted through an audience council nationwide. This way, quality programs can be produced to meet the audience’s demand.

John Ungpakorn, one of Thai PBS policy committee, said that “the goal of Thai PBS is to attract as large an audience as many as possible, but this doesn’t mean we have to rely on the number only. Therefore, the challenge is how to produce valuable and popular TV programs that can attract the target audience.”

6.3 Public Participation
Since its establishment, the executive board has underpinned participation of all who are concerned with Thai PBS. This includes public hearings for test-running the program with civil society, viewers’ participation in Thai PBS logo contest, holding a meeting for brainstorming on interesting programs such as children’s programs, artistic programs, and music that Thai PBS should provide.

6.4 Autonomy vs. Interference
Governments as well as politicians, more or less, tend to interfere with media. For example, TV Channel 11 or NBT is affiliated with Public Relations Department, under the Office of the Prime Minister; TV Channel 9 is a public company of which the majority of shares are owned by the government; TV Channel 5 is owned by the Royal Thai Army, while other channels are under concession. Thus, intervention can occur either directly or indirectly. For Thai PBS, even though it is owned by the government, there are certain committees to oversee its conduct and performance governed by the special rules and laws. Hence, interference by the government may not be easy. Interference by private is even more difficult since Article 11 of Thai PBS Organization Act states that money obtained from donors/sponsors must not make Thai PBS lose its “independence”. However, to protect Thai PBS from any interference, it is the duty of Thai people who have the feeling of “owning Thai PBS” to protect its existence.

1. iTV (Independent Television) with a 30-year concession from the Office of the Prime Minister, was launched in 1995. After a lengthy dispute over non-payment of concession fees to the Office of the Prime Minister, the station was taken over by the Public Relations Department in 2007 and renamed TITV (Thailand Independent Television).

2. Vipha Utamachant and Sachiko Imaizumi Kodaira (1991) The Effectiveness of NHK’s Educational TV Series for Children in Thailand.

3. TDRI (2007) The Trend and Method to Establish Children and Family Television Channel, A research paper presented to National Public Health Foundation, p.11.

4. , 8 Sept. 2008

5. National Telecommunication Commission (2008) Telecom Digest, Volume 1, No.7, July, p. 8.

6. 8 Sept. 2008

7. 8 Sept. 2008

8. UNESCO (2005), Public Service Broadcasting: A Best Practice Sourcebook.. pp.10-11.

9. A Thai PBS committee member and a former BBC staff member.

10. Thai PBS Organization Act: 2008, p.25.

11. Thai PBS Organization Act: 2008, Article 7, p.3.

12. Thai PBS Organization Act: 2008, Article 18, p.7.

13. The selective committee consists of 15 representatives:

  • (1) President of the National Press Council of Thailand.

  • (2) President of the National Broadcast Journalists of Thailand.

  • (3) President of the Broadcast Journalists Association.

  • (4) President of the Council of the Mass Communication Faculty Members of Thailand.

  • (5) President of the NGO Cooperation Committee.

  • (6) President of the Consumer Organization Association.

  • (7) President of the Children and Youth Development Council

  • (8) President of the Disabled People’s Council of Thailand.

  • (9) President of the Lawyer Council.

  • (10) President of Thai Environment Institute.

  • (11) Executive Secretary of Thai Health Promotion Foundation.

  • (12) Permanent Secretary of Office of the Prime Minister.

  • (13) Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Finance.

  • (14) Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Culture.

  • (15) Permanent Secretary of Ministry of Education.

14. Thai PBS Organization Act: 2008, Article 29, p.13.

15. Thai PBS Organization Act: 2008, Article 11, p. 5.

16. Thai PBS Organization Act :2008, article 43, pp.17-18.

17. Data were compiled and analyzed by the author.

18. 5 Sept., 2008.

19. 12 Sept., 2008.

20. Thai PBS Organization Act: 2008, Article 45, p.19.

21. Thai PBS Organization Act: 2008, Article 8, p. 4.

Supanee Nitsmer

Assistant Professor, Dept. of Mass Communication, Ramkhamhaeng University, Bangkok

B.A. (First Class Honor in Education) 1978, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. Cert. in Graphic Reproduction, 1983, Singapore, (Colombo Plan). M.A. (Mass Communication) 1991, Thammasat University, Bangkok, Thailand. Cert. in Television Program Production, 1992, NHK-Communication Training Center, Japanese Foundation, (JICA). Cert. in Television Program Production, 1995, Capilano College, Victoria, Canada (Canadian Foundation). [Related Experiences] Text: TV Script Writing, Introduction to Journalism, Photojournalism Working: Head of the project (1995-2005). "Youth Television Program Production" Jointly organized by Mass Communication Department, Ramkhamhaeng University and TV Channel 5, Thailand, (Produced Youth TV Program and broadcast on TV Channel 5). Co-authors in The Appropriate Post Rating for Television Program: A Case Study of Thai TV Channel 7, Research Working Paper, 2008.

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