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Source:  http://www.bangkokpost.com/entertainment/entertainscoop/15175/moving-in-the-right-direction

Bangkok Post : MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

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Entertainment » Entertainment Scoop

MOVING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

Published: 17/04/2009 at 12:00 AM
Newspaper section: Realtime

After 14 months on the air, TV Thai, formerly known as Thai PBS, is moving in the right direction even though the process of soul-searching for the country's first public station is still long and arduous, says managing director Thepchai Yong. "We still have to go through many trials and errors," he says. "But our goal as stipulated by the law is clear: this is the station that aims to provide knowledge, as well as entertainment, and as a result it's also our job to encourage people to take part in thinking and solving the problems of the country."

Thai PBS managing director Thepchai Yong.

Born on February 2008 after iTV (later TITV) was disbanded, TV Thai was launched into uncharted waters as the first public broadcasting service, or PBS, the concept of a TV station as a social service independent from the pressure of commercials and sponsors, like the BBC in the United Kingdom, NHK in Japan, or ABC in Australia. So far, TV Thai has acquired the image of a sober channel, informative and no-nonsense, with a mix of news and documentary programmes. Yet Thepchai, a former journalist, realises that variety and popular appeal are significant in attracting viewers, and TV Thai is facing the classic dilemma of trying to find the right equilibrium for serious and fun content.

The project Saneh Bangkok or Charming Bangkok (see main story), for example, is an attempt to offer a new kind of "after-news drama" that has a more discreet appeal than prime-time soap series. The idea is to inject entertainment into the mix without diluting the core mission of providing knowledge and information.

"The audience is a big challenge," says Thepchai. "We all grew up perceiving television as entertainment. It's our way of life. TV Thai is trying to offer an alternative. It usually takes time for the audience to develop loyalty to a channel or a programme, so we have to start by offering something new right now.

"I believe education and entertainment can go together, though not in every case. If we have a good programme and nobody watches it, it'd mean nothing. We care about our audience, of course, and naturally we want a lot of people to watch our channel, but our goal is not to maximise the number of viewers. Our goal is to produce quality programmes. We want more people to tune into TV Thai, but that doesn't mean we have to please everyone by producing game shows and TV series."

Even though TV Thai isn't officially a government channel, like NBT, the fact that its budget comes from tax money - as specified by the law, the station receives 1.5 percent from the liquor and tobacco tax - makes its susceptibility to politics inevitable. "Thai politicians believe that they need to control the media, especially electronic media," says Thepchai. "So it has become a tradition that when a new government comes into power, they want to exert control over TV stations, even a public station like ours. Are we concerned about this? Yes, because political interference won't do any good to the spirit of a free and independent channel."

Thepchai says that another duty of TV Thai - again, as specified by the law - is to support small and independent producers of TV programmes, who usually have a slim chance to vie for air time from major producing companies. And again, Charming Bangkok is an example of how TV Thai, if it stays true to its promise, would prefer to play indie than mainstream. "It's out job to provide space and opportunities for new people who have ideas and imagination," says Thepchai. "It's part of our mission."

Fourteen months, he adds, is too soon to judge the failure or success of the new station. "A public broadcasting service is a new concept," he says.

"It's new to the audience, to the staff and to me. But we're moving, and I think we're moving in the right direction."



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