Thai TV wins landmark licence case against NBTC

BANGKOK (The Nation/ANN) - Both sides plan appeal after court rules regulator failed to properly plan for transition to digital tv.

In aN historic case, Thailand’s broadcast regulator was yesterday ordered to return seized bank guarantees worth almost Bt1.75 billion to Thai TV, the licensee of two digital television stations.
The Central Administrative Court ruled that the National Broadcasting and Telecommunica-tions Commission (NBTC) had to return 16 bank guarantees issued by Bangkok Bank for Bt1.748 billion to Thai TV Co Ltd.
The payment is supposed to be made within 60 days of the case being completed, the verdict said.
Thai TV – the operator of Thai TV and Loca digital television channels, which went out of business after returning its licences to the NBTC – named the NBTC and its office as co-defendants in a lawsuit filed with the court in 2016. 
Multiple digital TV licensees have suffered losses and sought help from authorities. Following repeated complaints, the NBTC recently suggested remedial measures, including a junta order to allow the suspension of licence fee payments and to enable licensees to return their licences without penalty.
In its lawsuit, the company blamed a slow and ineffective switch to digital TV, as well as too many competitors vying for limited advertising revenue, for its failure to pay NBTC licence fees.
The court yesterday ruled that Thai TV had the right to cancel the contract, its termination was lawful and it was not obliged to pay the fees for the remaining period. 
The court found that Thai TV’s switch from analogue to digital, which was carried out by the NBTC, proceeded slowly and did not go as planned. The process lacked proper public relations communications on the imminent switch to digital TV, leaving large parts of the population uninformed about the changes, and digital TV did not gain sufficient interest.
“As the co-defendants failed to perform their duties, Thai TV had the right to cancel its digital broadcast services through the two stations. The plaintiff thus was obliged to return the licences to the co-defendants and no longer has the right to broadcast digital TV programmes,” the court said in its verdict. 
However, the court yesterday did not grant Thai TV’s request for the NBTC to return Bt365.5 million in fees already paid to the regulating agency. 
The court said that as a licensee, Thai TV had a duty to pay the fees covering the first year of operation, although it was not obliged to pay licence fees for the next instalments after it cancelled the agreement. The court also rejected Thai TV’s request for Bt713.8 million in compensation, plus interest of 7.5 per cent per annum, for supposed damages caused to the company’s business. 
“All the damages inflicted on the complainant stemmed from the complainant’s normal business operation. The complainant thus is unable to seek compensation from the two defendants,” the verdict said.
Thai TV president Pantipa Sakulchai said she was satisfied with the verdict.
However, she said the company would appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court regarding its request for the Bt713.8 million in compensation from NBTC, which was rejected by the lower court.
“We are confident we have enough documented evidence to prove that the NBTC breached the contract and caused damages,” she said.
Meanwhile, Sombat Leelapata, director of the NBTC’s legal affairs division, said yesterday that the agency would also appeal the verdict within 30 days. He said the lower court failed to include certain facts in its decision, such as details of the prospectus for companies taking part in bidding for digital TV licences.


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