iTV reincarnated into TITV
Kamol Hengkietisak summarizes the TV station saga
Sunday, March 11, 2007
By Kamol Hengkietisak
A television anchor adjusts her microphone before a monitor bearing the new logo 'TITV'. The station, formerly run by iTV Plc, came under the supervision of the Public Relations Department on Thursday.
There was no other issue as hot last week as the closure of 10-year-old iTV, only to be reborn as TITV (Thailand Independent Television).
The saga began on Tuesday when Khunying Dhipavadee Meksawan, the minister attached to the Prime Minister's Office, which granted broadcasting licence for iTV, held a press conference to announce that the cabinet resolved to terminate the concession from midnight on Wednesday, and iTV must be off the air because it failed to pay the concession fee and accumulated fines for late payments.
Upon hearing the news, hundreds of iTV staff cried, but they were not surprised. They appointed a representative to petition the Administrative Court to issue a temporary injunction against the PM Office's order so that iTV could continue to broadcast, arguing that a black-out would damage the station considerably and people would not gain any benefit. After midnight on Tuesday, iTV continued to broadcast a special farewell programme and vowed to carry on unless the court ruled otherwise.
On Wednesday, the National Legislative Assembly held a meeting and asked Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont to explain the reason for terminating the iTV concession.
Khunying Dhipavadee replied on behalf of Gen Surayud that the problem with iTV was that the private concessionaire failed to honour the contract with the government in regard to several issues, and thus forced the government to terminate the contract.
She mentioned that the contract stipulated that there must be at least 10 groups of investors, each holding no more than 10% equity stake. This was the case initially, but not later (when Shin Corp decided to buy out other investor groups to hold a majority stake).
iTV had also demanded that the PM's Office pay compensation for allowing other UHF broadcasters, thus affecting iTV's revenue. iTV also wanted to cut down the news/documentary ratio to only 50% of the broadcast time instead of 70%, as stipulated in the concession contract.
The PM's Office did not agree to iTV demands, as that the UHF TV station was established as an alternative channel for people to gain knowledge and information.When both sides disagreed, the matter went to an arbitration which ruled in favour of iTV.
The PM Office then decided to seek an Administrative Court ruling to overthrow the arbitration's decision, and was successful. iTV appealed to the Supreme Administrative Court, which after some time also affirmed the lower court's ruling.
iTV owed 2,210 million baht in concession payments when the Supreme Administrative Court affirmed the lower court's ruling against the TV station. The company was also told to pay 464,539,667 baht interest and late payment fines, amounting to 97,760 million baht. Altogether iTV owed 100,343,539,667 baht. However, iTV decided to ignore the payment deadline of Tuesday March 6, 2007.
Khunying Dhipavadee explained that iTV also failed to honour other concession terms, including construction of a broadcasting building and equipment procurement. She then praised Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont for having the courage to say sorry to the iTV staff for failing to keep the promise that he would do everything to keep iTV on air.
Things looked better for iTV staff in the afternoon of last Wednesday, when the Council of State moved its deliberations up from Friday to rule that the PM's Office can allow the Public Relations Department (PRD) to run iTV without breaching the Frequency Management Act. Immediately, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont gave an order to allow iTV to continue broadcasting without even temporarily suspending broadcasting. Upon hearing the news, iTV staff and supporters gathered in front of the Shinawatra III building and cheered, hugging each other, some with tears of joy.
Meechai Ruchupan, National Legislative Assembly president and member of the Council of State, explained that since there is not yet a National Broadcasting Commission to oversee the allocation of a broadcasting frequency, a new frequency cannot be allocated to allow a new TV station. Thus the PRD had to take over.
PM's Office permanent secretary Chulayuth Hiranyawisit revealed that Gen Surayud, upon hearing the Council of State's ruling, asked him to relay the message to iTV staff that they should not worry, as the government would do everything to let them continue broadcasting, without having to wait for the Administrative Court's ruling. Chulayuth also relayed Gen Surayud's instruction to the PRD.
One problem to overcome was that iTV executives had already terminated the helicopter service (for news gathering) and satellite relay contracts. The PRD chief was instructed to renew the two contracts to allow continuous broadcasting. After Wednesday midnight, the broadcast was moved to the PRD building on Petchburi Rd, using Channel 11's broadcasting equipment.
It will take some time to move iTV equipment to the new facility.
Chulayuth noted that existing iTV staff would be told to sign a new contract with the new entity, TITV if they wished to continue working.
Meanwhile, PRD chief Pramoj Ratthavinij noted that Channel 11 is ready to take over running iTV temporarily and would ask the PM's Office for an initial operating budget of 90 million baht. He gave assurance that existing iTV staff would be rehired, but there would be a salary committee to consider whether to give the same salaries or reduced ones.
He insisted that the new TITV would still be an independent and alternative choice for the people.
Pramoj added that initially all existing programmes and time slots would stay the same.
If there are to be any programming changes, a screening committee will oversee it, the same practice as at other TV stations.
There are about 440 existing contracts with content producers, some of which might be subject to review in the future.
About 9.20 p.m. on Wednesday night, after more than 3 hours deliberation, the Administrative Court gave a temporary injunction against the PM Office's Tuesday shutdown order.
The court ordered the PM's Office, as the concession holder of UHF broadcasting, to continue broadcasting, whether on its own or allowing others to do so on its behalf, until a final ruling is reached. At the stroke of midnight on Wednesday, iTV was reincarnated into TITV, with a new TV logo, without a single second hitch in the broadcast.
The rise and fall of iTV
The idea of a new free TV channel broadcasting under UHF frequency was born in 1992 with the proposal of interim prime minister Anand Panyarachun, who returned to power after the so-called Black May incident.
At the time all TV stations were under government supervision.
Anand assigned the Prime Minister's Office to draw a TOR (term of reference) to establish an independent station with an emphasis on news and information, at least 70% of content.
The bidding was won in 1995 by Siam TV and Communication led by Siam Commercial Bank with other partners including Crown Property Bureau, the Nation Group, Kantana Group, Wattachak Group, Daily News, Loxley and Giant.
They were granted a 30-year concession ending in 2025, with the total concession fee amounting to 25,200 million baht, much higher than the median reference fee of 10,000 million baht.
The new station began broadcasting on July 1, 1996.
During the Chuan administration, the TOR was amended to allow a group to hold more than a 10% stake.
The move enabled the Siam Commercial Bank to become the largest stake holder.
In 1997, the country was faced with a severe economic crisis and iTV could not escape the consequences.
The TV station, along with numerous other businesses, suffered very heavy losses.
For this reason, Siam Commercial Bank, which had also incurred heavy financial losses, contacted Thaksin Shinawatra's Shin Corp to take over its holdings in 2001.
Shin Corp responded with an offer to buy out other stakeholders, making it the largest shareholder in iTV.
Shin Corp soon raised iTV capital to 1,200 million baht and floated shares in the Stock Exchange of Thailand.
The new management invited well-known TV producers to join the company and began putting more emphasis on entertainment.
In 2003, iTV's new management initiated arbitration proceedings, asking to amend the concession term and reduce the concession fee from 1 billion baht a year.
The basis of iTV's argument was that other TV stations paid much less. The arbitrators gave a judgment in favour of iTV, reducing the concession fee to 230 million baht, and allowed iTV to raise the entertainment content of the programming to 50%.
On May 9, 2006, the Administrative Court ruled against the arbitration's decision, resulting in iTV having to pay 1 billion baht annual concession fee, return news/documentary to 70% and having to cough up 9.4 billion baht late payment fine. iTV appealed against the ruling in the Supreme Administrative Court, which on December 13, 2006 affirmed the lower court's ruling.
On March 6, 2007, the Cabinet decided to temporarily suspend iTV's broadcast, awaiting a ruling from the Council of State.
On March 7, 2007, the Council of State ruled that the PRD could take over iTV operation.
Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont ordered PRD to continue iTV broadcasts from midnight under the new name of TITV.
The Administrative Court also gave a temporary injunction against the broadcast shutdown.
On March 8, 2007, TITV began its first day of operation.
Date Posted: 3/11/2007