NBTC fails on job, say experts

Reform of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) must take place as a first step in the media reforms proposed by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), media experts say.

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Suwanna Sombatraksasook, chairwoman of Isra News Agency's legal and mass media policy panel, said yesterday the NBTC has failed to launch the 12 public channels and 12 community channels for digital TV.

Only 24 commercially purposed channels have been launched, and some of them might struggle to survive, Ms Suwanna told a media reform forum organised by the Thai Journalists Association.

She said the NBTC failed to regulate media cross-holdings in approved digital TV channels. Several media owners, including those in the print and online sectors, are allowed to own the digital TV channels.

Some academics and media experts oppose such media cross-holdings due to fears of media domination.

Ms Suwanna said NBTC last year had a total staff of 1,083 with 310 high-ranking executives and 70 lower executives.

It had only 78 staff to supervise radio and TV broadcasting, including tens of thousands of community radio stations.

"It shows the NBTC had a bigger 'head' than 'body'," she said.

In 2013, the NBTC spent 634 million baht on personnel costs, averaging 48,000 baht per month per head, excluding 50 million baht per-diem on executive meetings, 32 million baht on overseas trips, 274 million baht on organising campaigns, 180 million baht on public relations activities, and 329 million baht for hiring advisers.

In the short-term, the NBTC needs to reform its governance and budget spending and in the long-term, law amendments are needed to ensure the NBTC's transparency and efficiency.

"I propose splitting the NBTC into two organisations: one a telecom regulator and another a broadcasting regulator," Ms Suwanna said.

Worapoj Wongkitrungruang, a Thammasat University lecturer in sociology and anthropology, said the NBTC's studies have never caught public attention despite the fact that it spent 329 million baht on advisers. "Who has ever seen the NBTC's research on its website or in its public hearings," he asked.

He said his colleagues who were hired by the NBTC told him some study project costs as much as 20 million baht. And some projects required overseas trips to conduct and NBTC staff always joined them.

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