Asia Satellite Television (ASTV)

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‘’We want to know more of the truth that is happening in our country; we want to know about the cases against this government,’’ added Hui-Leng, a Bangkok resident, as she sat before a television tuned to ASTV. ‘’You cannot get this information on other channels.’’

On first impressions, Thailand’s political crisis appears to be an attempt to shape the future of democracy in a kingdom that has witnessed 18 military coups. But the anger that drives a protest movement to topple an elected administration has pitted it against the old media order.

Two sisters in their late 50s are among a growing number of largely urban Thais from across the country who are a part of this backlash. They have become devotees of Asia Satellite Television (ASTV) a relatively new entrant into Thailand’s TV world which is dominated by commercial TV stations that offer a staple of light talk shows, soap operas and gossip programmes.

‘’Those stations offer little of the kind of programmes that we want to see — about politics in Thailand, corruption, how the government is abusing its power,’’ says Hui-Leng, the younger of the two Thai-Chinese sisters, referring to TV stations that have dominated the airwaves, such as Channel Seven and Three. Together, these Thai-language stations enjoy 60 percent of the TV market share in this South-east Asian country.

‘’We want to know more of the truth that is happening in our country; we want to know about the cases against this government,’’ added Hui-Leng, a Bangkok resident, as she sat before a television tuned to ASTV. ‘’You cannot get this information on other channels.’’

ASTV’s programmes, since late May, has consisted of speeches beamed from a stage set up at the site of a Bangkok protest rally, led by an anti-government group that calls itself the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD). The target of criticism is the current government, led by Prime Minster Samak Sundaravej, who was elected in the December general elections. Besides allegations of corruption and the abuse of power, the Samak administration is accused of being unpatriotic and threatening the country’s revered monarch.

‘’Our entire programming is now totally dedicated to what is being said at the PAD rallies,’’ says Chadaporn Lin, managing editor of the station’s English-language channel. ‘’It appeals to our viewers, even if the material is strong, subjective and biased. The speeches about corruption and the abuse of power are things the public will not get on other commercial TV stations.’’

Mixed with the speeches is material the station’s 15 teams of reporters produce from the new command centre of the PAD, the office of the prime minister, which the anti-government protesters overran on Aug. 26, in an unprecedented show of civil disobedience. Some reports have included threats to the PAD protesters, which, when relayed over the station, has resulted in more PAD sympathisers ouring into Government House in a show of strength.

Much of this mobilisation is possible due to ASTV’s reach, which is currently estimated at 20 million viewers, Chadaporn said in an interview. ‘’Our audience has doubled since 2006, when we had 10 million viewers, because we present the political side of the news that is not available on national TV.’’

The station’s inroads into the TV market is also evident by the number of satellite dishes mushrooming on the roofs and balconies of houses and apartment buildings in Bangkok and other provinces. ASTV’s signature yellow satellite dish is becoming increasingly noticeable. In Bangkok alone the station has sold 200,000 satellite dishes, a fifth of the estimated million satellite dishes sold across the country by True Vision, the main cable company that offers multiple channels featuring news, films, sports and documentaries.

And if viewers cannot access the station through a satellite dish or a provincial cable company, the Internet offers a way out. Consequently, the website of ‘Manager,’ the newspaper produced by ASTV’s parent company, has seen the number of regular visitors rise. It is currently placed third among the top 10 Thai-language websites, according to ‘Truehits’, a website that monitors Internet traffic. All but one of the other nine website focuses on games, music, teenage interests and dating.

ASTV is now being credited with nudging Thailand to join the growing global technological trend in information flow that is based on satellite broadcast. ‘’ASTV has helped to accelerate the move towards satellite-based TV, as opposed to the older free-to-air TV,’’ Laurent Malespine, a Thai media analyst and founder of ‘Don’t Blink’, a political and media research company, told IPS. ‘’It is challenging the old media order in the country.’’

Content-wise, this recent arrival to the world of Thai TV is winning praise for expanding the space for free expression. ‘’ASTV is offering knowledge and political information and new ideas that have never been seen on Thai TV,’’ says Supinya Klangnarong, deputy head of the Campaign for Popular Media Reform, an independent local group lobbying for media rights. ‘’They have opened a new space for TV. There is 100 percent media freedom. You can say anything against the elected government and get away.’’

‘’And if it attracts more people, ASTV may take over the role that has always been played by Thai newspapers of setting the political agenda for the country,’’

 

Reference (IPS)

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