Minister defends Telenor’s ‘openness’ in Thailand

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Norway’s Trade Minister Monica Mæland, who’s responsible for the state’s ownership interests in Norwegian companies, has defended the “openness” she expects from companies like Telenor, which recently got in trouble with Thailand’s new military regime for revealing that it was ordered to block Facebook access in the turbulent country. Telenor later had to publicly apologize in Thai media for its openness, and Mæland defended that, too.

“It is unusual that a company is asked to apologize for having shown openness,”Mæland wrote in an e-mail to Norwegian  newspaper Aftenposten this week. “For me it is natural to be critical over how this case has developed, but this is a demanding situation that the company’s management and board must handle.”

Mæland oversees the state’s 54 percent stake in Telenor, which has been caught in a squeeze between its responsibilities to the rules and expectations of its home country and the government Mæland represents, and the responsibilities it has in the other countries where it does business. Telenor has had a major operation in Thailand for several years that was warmly supported by the former government, but it was unseated in a military coup last month. New military leaders, keen to assert their control after months of unrest in Thailand, had claimed that Facebook crashed in Thailand because of heavy traffic. In fact, Telenor unwittingly revealed when answering a question from newspaper Aftenposten, that the military regime had ordered its local subsidiary Dtac to block Facebook access, apparently to prevent protesters from using it to organize new demonstrations.

Caught in a lie, the military regime reacted angrily to Telenor’s alleged disobedience, resulting in the company feeling compelled to apologize for its openness. Mæland has accepted the company’s decision to apologize, even though she still expects openness.

“The current situation in Thailand can be very challenging for international businesses,” she wrote. “The (Norwegian) government will continue its dialogue with Telenor about these challenges, and stress the importance of continued openness and dialogue with business, organizations and authorities.”

newsinenglish.no staff