NBTC punches above its weight

NBTC punches above its weight

The lightweight recently fighting as a middleweight got official ranking as a heavyweight and took it to heart.

The always interesting National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) not only got its official licence as the one-and-only broadcast regulator and spectrum owner. It not only won the Thammasat University excellence award for contributions to society. It developed the vertebral column to switch from talking like a Dutch uncle to asserting itself like the bad-cop half of a police team.

Watch Col Natee Sukolrat, who by design or accident has wound up as head of the NBTC’s subcommittee working on the NBTC’s regulatory framework for over-the-top (OTT) services. The English translation is simple: censoring internet streaming.

Col Natee Sukolrat of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission laid down the law last week to the world’s biggest internet streaming providers. (Photo Public Relations Department)

The moment the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission Establishment Act came into force on June 22, Col Natee came back into force as a commissioner to be reckoned with. For the past 10 days he has very publicly pushed an agenda to turn the NBTC into the harshest online censor this side of Beijing.

This is what the government has failed to accomplish. Col Natee, probably secretly amused, showed the government how to block any Facebook post and any YouTube video in a few minutes or hours without any of that legal mumbo-jumbo and icky court orders.

Col Natee and friends at the NBTC make it all seem easy, but they’re being modest. The reason this lightweight group seems likely to prevail over super-heavy- weights Facebook, Google (YouTube), Line TV and also local content-streaming services is simple enough.

The government has no idea how to do business. When you’re dealing with the world’s most valuable brands, you do business and control them or they do business and control you. The NBTC may not know how to do much but it understands business.

The government (and most people, bless their trusting hearts) believes Facebook wants unlimited rights to feed unlimited information to unlimited numbers of Thais. Wrong. The NBTC knows Facebook wants freedom to do business and make unlimited amounts of money in Thailand.

Very big difference.

Col Natee, channelling his inner Marlon Brando from those Godfather movies, has presented all the really, really big players with an offer they can’t refuse. Here it is.

Quote. You big internet guys block a few pages and videos and stories and any content I tell you to, the moment I tell you to, and I’ll let you sell anything else you want. Otherwise I’ll put a crimp in that hose you call a revenue stream so tight you won’t make any money from anything you broadcast to Thailand. Unquote.

To make that promise credible, the NBTC took two steps. First, it pretended it had the legal authority to order all large content providers and internet streaming sources to register themselves with NBTC by July 22 and operate as Thai companies. Then it ordered the top 50 advertising agencies into a room and (ahem!) suggested that they agree to boycott and cut advertising to any internet streaming service nominated by the NBTC for such a move.

Then Col Natee “ordered” (his word) the Stock Exchange of Thailand to tell every listed company that advertising on any unregistered streaming site will … well, not be tolerated, whatever that means. Is it legal for the NBTC to throw around stuff like that? Legal? As they say in the chat rooms: “55555”.

The NBTC got its official certification as the unique broadcast regulator/censor last week, and wasted no time throwing its weight around. (File photo)

But effective? Netflix has already knuckled under. Facebook and YouTube (Google) have reportedly agreed. Any why not? What the companies spend on registration and even, if necessary, paying some corporate taxes isn’t even peanuts compared with their advertising revenue from Thai agencies and companies on streaming sites. It’s less than peanuts.

There are still myriad loose ends. Line TV, which in the past has told Thai censors to stuff it, isn’t yet on board. Small foreign streaming services will continue to stream or just sit passively to let visitors see forbidden videos, photos and text.

Col Natee, never one to stop right at the legal edge, told reporters last week that if companies refused to register it would be a criminal act. And anyway, it’s nothing new, Vietnam has a law forbidding advertising on banned sites.

Which is bluff. The NBTC cannot make laws, and Hanoi has no such law, although the Vietnamese government has put Natee-esque pressure on advertisers.

But that misses the point. Let’s just say that if Vietnam is your model for your freedom of speech policies and your press freedom regulations, you’re probably doing a lot of other things wrong as well.