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05BANGKOK5419 MORE CONCERNS ABOUT FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AS RTG RADIO STATION, SUES LEADING ENGLISH-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER

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“39017”,”8/23/2005 10:08″,”05BANGKOK5419″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,”UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,

“05BANGKOK4723”,

“This record is a partial extract of the original cable.

The full text of the original cable is not available.

 

“,”UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 005419

 

SIPDIS

 

SENSITIVE

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PHUM, PROP, SOCI, KPAO, TH

SUBJECT: MORE CONCERNS ABOUT FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AS RTG

RADIO STATION, SUES LEADING ENGLISH-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER

 

REF: BANGKOK 04723

 

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Two recent moves by the RTG against media

operations critical of Prime Minister Thaksin\’s government

have renewed concerns within the human rights community that

the government is once again resorting to legal measures to

intimidate the country\’s press. After being warned twice,

and seeing its website shut down in June, community radio

station 92.25 was raided on August 9 and formally charged

with violating national broadcasting regulations. On August

15, RTG authorities filed a criminal libel lawsuit against

the Bangkok Post after the newspaper published a story on

August 9 (which it retracted one day later) alleging serious

structural problems at Bangkok\’s new airport. The

government\’s lawsuit, which seeks 1 billion baht in damages

and a series of apologies, will be heard in September. END

SUMMARY

 

2. (U) Controversial community radio station Khon Rak

Prachathipatai (People Who Love Democracy) FM 92.25 was

raided in the afternoon of August 9 by thirty officers from

the Royal Thai Police,s (RTP) Crime Suppression Division,

the Public Relations Department and the National

Telecommunications Commission. The station was charged with

(a) transmitting radio frequencies and possessing radio

transmitters without permission, (b) interfering with

mainstream airwaves and (c) a criminal charge of interfering

with aviation transmissions. The station was also verbally

accused of \”broadcasting false information\”, although the

authorities stopped short of charging the station with

slander. Officers also confiscated the station\’s transmitter

(effectively closing the station down) in a search that

lasted approximately two hours. Thai authorities also

confiscated the station ID cards of some members of staff,

who were told they would be arrested if they continued

broadcasting. A spokesman for the Thai Prime Minister\’s

office defended the government\’s actions, arguing the station

had already been warned about these violations in April and

June. The station insists they had already adjusted their

broadcasts to comply with the regulations.

 

WARNING SIGNS LAST JUNE

 

3. (SBU) 92.25 is no stranger to trouble. Its website was

briefly shut down on June 20. Embassy contacts believed the

station would cease being a target of government enmity after

the departure of controversial radio host Anchalee

Paireeraka. Ms. Anchalee, a prominent political activist and

fierce critic of the Thaksin administration, frequently

accused the government of corruption in her programs. She

quit on June 23, alleging that she had been followed and

physically threatened and was quitting \”to save (her) life.\”

In a July 2005 meeting, XXXXXXXXXX of XXXXXXXXXX

XXXX told Poloffs that Anchalee personally believed that she

was the government,s primary target and that the station

would be left alone after she quit.(Reftel A)

 

CRITICS RAISE CONSTITUTIONAL CONCERNS

 

4. (U) As of August 22, the station was not back on the air.

A Thai language statement on the station\’s website stated

that the Government\’s actions had violated the rights of the

people and may have violated the Thai Constitution. The

Association of Thai Radio and Television Journalists also

issued a statement on August 10 criticizing the raid, and

asserting that the government had \”come close\” to violating

the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of the

press. XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX, a media expert at

XXXX University, told Poloff she was worried this

raid was marked the beginning of a government campaign to

close down all of the nation\’s 2000 community radio stations.

 

BANGKOK POST UNDER SUIT

 

5. (U) On August 15, government-affiliated Airport Authority

of Thailand and the New Bangkok International Airport filed a

criminal libel suit against the parent company of the Bangkok

Post, one of Thailand\’s two prominent English language

dailies. The legal action was in response to an August 9

front-page story reporting the existence of severe cracks on

the new airport\’s runways and that US experts had said it

would have to be re-built. The paper quickly admitted that

the source for the story had clearly been wrong, and printed

a retraction the next day, but the RTG was not assuaged. In

addition to criminal and civil damages, the plaintiffs are

demanding the defendants pay for a massive series of

advertisements in the international print and broadcast media

publicizing the trial\’s verdict. A Thai court accepted the

lawsuit for consideration and scheduled preliminary

examinations for September 19.

 

6. (U) In the meantime, the Bangkok Post has launched an

internal investigation into the matter, with results expected

to be announced this week. International press freedom groups

have roundly condemned the lawsuit, including the Southeast

Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), which released a statement

announcing that \”the government\’s course of action is to

harass the press. This…will have a chilling effect on press

freedom in Thailand.\” The English language \”Nation\”

newspaper has also been highly critical of the lawsuit

against its arch-rival, calling the government\’s action \”a

very rare and staggering legal move.\”

 

7. (SBU) COMMENT. The lawsuit against the Bangkok Post and

the closures of the radio station and the website on legal

technicalities appear to many here to be evidence of the

RTG\’s continuing resort to use the legal system to \”punish\”

media enterprises critical of the government. The raid on the

radio station, involving thirty law enforcement personnel,

appeared gratuitous. In light of these recent developments,

some editors, broadcasters and NGOs may be tempted to

self-censor themselves to avoid incurring the wrath of the

RTG. Though some in the government may claim \”victory\”, it

rings hollow- a cowed press is hardly in the country\’s best

interest. END COMMENT.

BOYCE

 

Written by thaicables

July 7, 2011 at 5:49 am

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