Cabinet gives iTV one week to pay, or pack up


The cabinet yesterday decided to revoke iTV's broadcasting concession if it fails to pay an overdue concession fee of 2.2 billion baht to the Prime Minister's Office by Tuesday.

Prime Minister's Office Minister Dhipawadee Meksawan, overseeing the Permanent Secretary's Office, which is iTV's contract partner, said the cabinet had considered all options proposed by the troubled television station, including issuing new shares to inject fresh cash into the firm, before making the decision.

''If the company doesn't pay the concession fee to the office on the due date, the cabinet will allow the Permanent Secretary's Office to revoke the broadcasting concession immediately,'' said Khunying Dhipawadee.

Deputy Prime Minister M.R. Pridiyathorn Devakula, who is supervising a solution to the iTV row, said the cabinet would set up a committee chaired by Khunying Dhipawadee Meksawan to administer iTV after the concession termination.

M.R. Pridiyathorn said iTV would continue its daily programming regardless of what happens. He said that was in the public interest at this stage.

He also said that restructuring, if the station comes under state control, would not affect jobs at iTV.

He denied reports the government was prepared to allow either the Public Relations Department (PRD) or Mcot Plc to administer iTV if the station's concession was terminated, saying this matter would need to be discussed by the committee under Khunying Dhipawadee.M.R. Pridiyathorn said the cabinet also instructed the Prime Minister's Office to continue seeking legal ways to make iTV pay a fine of 98 million baht, besides the concession fee and interest.

But Chullayuth Hiranyawisit, permanent secretary of the Prime Minister's Office, said it was possible the government might choose either the PRD or Mcot to run the station.

He said the company must revert to allocating 70% of on-air time to news content and the rest to entertainment programmes.

Niwattumrong Boonsongpaisan, a director of iTV Plc, said he was ready to cooperate with the government to allow a new agency to use the station's building and broadcasting equipment if the concession contract is scrapped.

The station would hand over its assets to the state after its operating licence was discontinued and it would have to terminate employment contracts with its employees and pay compensation to them in line with the law, he said.

Shares of iTV yesterday were suspended from trading during the stock market's afternoon session after the cabinet decision was announced. The stock had jumped 11.7% in the morning session to 1.05 baht per share on speculation there might be a settlement with the government.
But analysts said the stock is likely to nose-dive today once trading resumes, due to the increased likelihood of the firm's concession being cancelled.