Chalerm bans ASTV from cable channels
By The Nation
Published on June 14, 2008

Interior minister warns operators of immediate jail if they refuse to obey

Interior Minister Chalerm Yoobamrung yesterday banned the broadcasting of the ASTV channel, which provides live coverage of the People's Alliance for Democracy protest in Bangkok, through cable TV networks nationwide, and threatened to jail offending cable TV operators.

The new policy drew strong opposition from various groups, including cable TV operators, senators and ASTV owner and PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul. They said it violated the basic rights recognised by Constitution, especially the right to receive information and freedom of expression.

Chalerm announced his controversial ban at the monthly ministerial meeting yesterday morning, which was broadcast live via video conference with 76 governors nationwide.

"Write this down. The broadcasting of ASTV through cable TV is a crime according to the Criminal Law Article 85 and the owner could be jailed for at least six months," he told the governors.

"You, as governors, have to ask cable TV operators to stop such broadcasting. If they fail to do so, you should file a lawsuit against them. Don't worry. I have studied the legal issues carefully before announcing this policy. Call the ministry if you have any questions," he said.

Cable TV operator Surat Phiphatchaisiri, of KTV in Khon Kaen, said he felt confused about the policy and cast doubts on its legality.

"As far as I know, the ASTV broadcasting issue is still protected under the Administrative Court. How can a government have such a policy? If implemented, it will significantly affect our customers, who are largely fans of ASTV. It will also affect our income," he said.

"The Cable TV Association is now discussing this issue in its meeting in Pattaya," Surat said.

Bamrung Wasantakorn, operator of KCTV in Nakhon Ratchasima and an adviser to the Cable TV Association, said the ban was illegal as it violated media and consumer rights.

Both operators said they believed Chalerm's policy would backfire on the government as the ban would encourage more people join the PAD's movement.

ASTV owner Sondhi said the ban violated constitutional rights and its victims could complain to the Administrative Court.

"It is a misdirected policy. Chalerm does not realise that what he has done will destroy him in the end," Sondhi said.

Senator and lawyer Warin Thiamcharas said Chalerm's ban was against Article 45 of the Constitution and would be an act of media intervention if it continued.

PAD spokesman Suriyasai Katasila said yesterday evening that the group was considering sending hundreds of its supporters to Chalerm's residence to demonstrate against his controversial policy.

Note added by C-BAND ASTV is broadcast on NSS 6 [95 Degrees East]