The yellow shirts’ mouthpiece ASTV went off the air late on the afternoon of 17 Oct after it failed to clear debts owed to a Dutch satellite-operating company, but it still can be viewed on the internet and listened to on radio.
Sondhi Limthongkul, founder of the television station and leader of the People’s Alliance for Democracy, said that the New Skies Satellites Co had stopped providing services to ASTV after ASTV fell over 6 months behind in payments, with outstanding debts of about US$400,000.
Although ASTV tried to negotiate repayment of the debt at the end of this year, in addition to regular monthly fees, the company, which had recently been acquired by new owners, wanted all debts paid off at once.
‘We couldn’t. Because we have to pay our employees. And for us our employees are considered the most important,’ Sondhi said.
ASTV programmes continue to be broadcast through the internet and its 97.75MHz community radio station.
Since it was founded in 2003, ASTV has performed its duty of presenting the truth and standing up for what is right and as a result has received little income from advertising, unlike other news outlets which were set up to support capitalists and political parties, including, for example, the red-shirt TV which is given huge financial support, he said.
‘I’ve endured and struggled for over 7 years. But I can’t bear all this alone. I’ve had to sell personal property worth over one billion baht. Some people have offered us money on condition that we change sides, but we refused,’ he said.
He said that all through the years he had had to shoulder expenses of about 30-40 million baht a month to run ASTV.
‘ASTV and PAD supporters contribute about 3-4 million baht a month, despite the fact that if just about 1-200,000 of them each contributed 500 baht, we would get 40-50 million baht a month. Although Maj Gen Chamlong’s sales of fertilizers help, it’s not consistent, as they can’t sell because of the floods. ASTV goods yield a profit of only over one million baht a month. The SMS has only about 40,000 subscribers, as opposed to the original target of 1-200,000. And there are no adverts because no one wants to place any, since this is a TV station which capitalists don’t want to support because we’re too independent. If we sold ourselves, our ideology for about 30%, we would have survived and got rich, but we didn’t,’ Sondhi said.
‘Today, people think only of their own gain, and don’t want to sacrifice. Running ASTV is a great sacrifice, because it risks being sued, being assaulted and losing personal wealth. I had 200 bullets shot at me and I face over 70 court cases. I think in Thailand there is no man like me. I’ve even been accused by the Democrats and their supporters of receiving money from Thaksin,’ he said.
‘Now PAD or ASTV supporters who only cheer with words, but do not give any help, please watch Channels 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11 instead. ASTV is an example which clearly proves that the Thai people only like to cheer, but stay silent when we need to take action and give money to keep good things going. If there was no ASTV, Thailand would not have changed. Now there is no more ASTV, it will be difficult for Thailand to change,’ he said.
‘I can’t shoulder the burden any longer. Because I have nothing. My back is broken. I said I would keep ASTV going until I drop. And that day has come,’ he said.