June 13, 2023
BANGKOK – Intouch Holdings Plc on Monday ordered its subsidiary iTV Plc to investigate why the minutes from its latest shareholding meeting appear to contradict an audio recording of the meeting itself.
The minutes have been cited in a case that could see Move Forward Party’s leader and PM candidate Pita Limjaroenrat banned from taking office.
The move by Intouch, which it reported to the Stock Exchange of Thailand on Monday, comes amid suspicion aired by Pita, his supporters and others that the share saga was concocted to prevent him from becoming the next prime minister.
The minutes were cited by political activist Ruangkrai Leekitwattana in his complaint to the Election Commission Office on May 9.
Ruangrai alleged that Pita was unqualified to contest the election because he held 42,000 shares in media firm iTV. The Constitution bars candidates from running for office if they hold media shares.
The minutes of the April 26 shareholders’ meeting record that Kim Siritaweechai, CEO of Intouch and president of iTV, was asked by shareholder Phanuwat Kwanyuen whether iTV was still operating as a media business. The minutes record that Kim confirmed it was still active in media.
However, in an audio clip released by former iTV reporter Thapanee Iadsrichai, who now works for 3 Dimension News, Kim can be heard replying that iTV no longer operates in the media business.
Pita posted on Facebook last week that iTV had not operated as a media firm since March 7, 2007 when its TV concession was terminated by the PM’s Office’s Secretariat.
Pita noted that the shareholder raised the question of iTV’s media operations just a few days before he applied to run as Move Forward’s party-list and PM candidate, suggesting he knew the reply or minutes would be used somehow later.
In its report to the SET, Intouch said it had ordered iTV’s management to conduct an urgent investigation as the minutes had drawn public attention. It said it would inform the SET of the investigation’s findings for the sake of transparency and good governance.
Intouch holds a 52.92% stake in iTV.
On Monday, Move Forward MP-elect Wiroj Lakkhanaadisorn said anyone found to be involved in falsifying the minutes would face jail time. He said the culprits would be abandoned by “the mastermind”, though declined to name names.
He cited Article 216 of the Public Company Act, which states that the penalty for changing, modifying or publishing false information on a public company’s document is a maximum jail term of five years and/or a fine of up to one million baht.
“The person who ordered you to do this misdeed will not be around to help you. He will abandon you and cut off your link to him,” Wiroj tweeted on Monday.
Fellow Move Forward MP-elect Ekkaraj Udom Amnuay, a former iTV reporter, on Monday backed Pita’s claim that iTV has not operated in media since 2007.
Suspicions of a conspiracy against Pita grew even stronger when more details came to light about the man who raised the question at the meeting.
The shareholder, Phanuwat, is a friend of Nik Saensirinawin, a Bhumjaithai Party candidate who failed in his bid to be elected in Bangkok’s constituency 17.
Nik admitted during a 3 Dimension News interview that he is close to Phanuwat, who is his junior in the same office. He also admitted to transferring his own iTV shares to Phanuwat before applying to run in the May 14 election.
And it was Nik who was the first person to reveal that Pita held a stake in iTV, writing in an April 24 Facebook post that Pita held 42,000 shares in the company. He said Pita should declare the share ownership to the EC and be disqualified from running in the election.
Nik gave another interview to reporters about the share saga on May 9 – which happened to be the same day that Ruangkrai filed his complaint.
Back in the 1990s, iTV was championed by democracy advocates as a beacon of free speech and unbiased reporting at a time when other TV stations were tightly controlled government mouthpieces. But now its spectre has returned to haunt Move Forward just as the election-winner seeks to lead democratic reform of the country.
iTV was born out of the blackouts on government-run channels during the military crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters during the Black May incident in 1992. When the military-backed government fell, Anand Panyarachun’s interim administration opened bidding for an independent TV station.
Siam TV and Communications led by Siam Commercial Bank won the concession and Nation Group was invited to take a stake and manage the station on July 1995.
iTV began broadcasting on July 1996 at 7pm, becoming the first Thai television station to offer rolling news throughout the day rather than merely evening bulletins.
In 2000, a takeover by Shin Corp prompted a rebellion by iTV reporters and a pullout by Nation Group.
The TV station then ran up huge debts. On December 14, 2006, the PM’s Office Secretariat asked iTV to pay the concession fee of 2.21 billion baht plus a fine of 97.76 billion baht for breaking the contract over programme schedules.
On March 8, 2007, a day after the Cabinet had ordered the termination of iTV’s concession, the station halted broadcasts after 10 years and eight months of operation.
On Friday, the EC voted unanimously to reject the shareholding complaint against Pita on grounds that Ruangkrai filed it after the EC Office had finished screening qualifications of election candidates.
But the EC indicated it saw merit in Ruangkrai’s allegations by ordering an inquiry into whether Pita broke Article 151 of the political party act by applying as an election candidate despite knowing he was not qualified.
Move Forward supporters say the inquiry will provide an excuse for pro-military senators not to vote for Pita as the next prime minister.
They also fear the iTV share case could be sent to the Constitutional Court, the same agency that dissolved Move Forward’s predecessor, Future Forward, in 2020.