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05BANGKOK3522 COMMUNITY RADIO IN THAILAND: CRACKDOWN OR CROSSED SIGNALS?

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This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 BANGKOK 003522

 

SIPDIS

 

SENSITIVE

 

DEPARTMENT FOR EAP/BCLTV, USPACOM FOR FPA HUSO

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: PGOV PHUM KPAO TH

SUBJECT: COMMUNITY RADIO IN THAILAND: CRACKDOWN OR CROSSED

SIGNALS?

 

REF: 02 BANGKOK 7237

 

¶1. (U) SUMMARY: An estimated 2,000 (maybe 3,000)

unregistered community radio stations continue to broadcast

popular news and “call in” talk shows without a legal

regulatory framework. Appointment of a National Broadcasting

Commission (NBC) remains stalled in the Thai Senate.

Although the Royal Thai Government (RTG) air traffic control

agency has complained that some community radios are

interfering with aviation safety, recent government attempts

to enforce interim regulations on community radio stations

are regarded as intimidation by popular radio personalities

and Thai media freedom watchdogs. END SUMMARY.

 

 

BACKGROUND ON COMMUNITY RADIO IN THAILAND

 

¶2. (U) The current legal basis for community radio in

Thailand is the 1997 reformist Constitution, which, under

Section 40, states, “Transmission frequencies for radio or

television broadcasting and radio telecommunication are

national communication resources for public interest.” The

Constitution calls for the establishment of an “independent

regulatory body” to distribute these frequencies for “utmost

public benefit”. In late 2004, the Thaksin administration

submitted a list of 14 nominees for a proposed National

Broadcasting Commission (NBC) to the appropriate Thai Senate

subcommittee for vetting. That subcommittee is tasked with

selecting 7 committee members from the 14 nominees for

further processing, but its consideration of the list is

still pending. The Thaksin government previously submitted a

nominee list for the NBC in 2003. That list was rejected on

appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court due to a lack of

transparency in the selection process and claims of conflicts

of interest between nominees and members of the selection

committee which came up with the names. Senator Chirmsak

Pinthong recently told journalists that the selection process

for the names submitted by the Thaksin government was

tainted. He claimed that many of the nominees submitted both

times were not qualified to sit on a NBC regulatory body; he

reiterated claims of conflicts of interest amongst selection

panel members and NBC nominees.

 

A REGULATORY VACUUM

 

¶3. (U) Under interim regulations established by the Public

Relations Department (PRD) in March 2003, community radio

stations are allowed to continue “extra-legal” operations

until the proposed NBC enacts regulations. These interim

rules limit stations to 30 watts of power, a 30-meter antenna

and range of 15 to 18 kilometers. In January 2005, the PRD

issued an additional regulation allowing the stations to air

6 minutes of commercials a day. PRD officials have told

Embassy officers that there are approximately 1,793

registered community radio stations. This number includes 500

stations in the Community Radio Network, an alliance of

station managers formed to defend the rights of community

radio operators nationwide. But privately both the PRD and

NGOs admitted that the true total number of stations is

unknown. Estimates range from 2,000 to 3,000. (Note: The

RTG owns and controls 524 officially registered “regular” AM

and FM radio stations in the country. The military and

police services control 230 radio stations, PRD and the Mass

Communications Organization of Thailand (MCOT) control over

170 stations combined. Nearly all of these stations are

leased to commercial companies. End Note.)

 

BUT MONEY TO BE MADE?

 

¶4. (U) Uajit Virojtrairatt, of the media watchdog group,

Civil Media Development Institute, stated in The Nation

newspaper on May 24 that some stations are making handsome

profits on untaxed commercial air time, claiming that one

station made up to 200,000 baht ($5,128) per month.

Meanwhile, Uajit noted, registered commercial radio stations

are complaining of declining advertising revenue as

businesses turned to cheaper airtime on community radio.

Because only government operated broadcast entities are

allowed to transmit paid advertising in Thailand, this newly

granted authority allowing community radio stations to sell

advertising time may have accelerated the rapid growth of the

medium in recent months, and prompted operators to stretch

the envelope of allowable frequencies and transmission power.

 

¶5. (U) Suranand Vejajiva, the media savvy Minister to the

Prime Minister’s Office and former spokesman for the Thai Rak

Thai (TRT) party, has been assigned the public relations

portfolio in Thaksin’s office. He reportedly ordered the

PRD to review all community radio stations operations to

ensure they are following the interim guidelines. Press

reports indicated that the Aeronautical Radio of Thailand

(Aerothai), the RTG-run air traffic control agency,

complained to Suranand that some community radio stations

broadcasts interfered with air traffic communications. On

May 25, the chairman of the Thai Parliament’s House

Telecommunication Subcommittee and TRT party list Member of

Parliament Suphap Khlikhachai confirmed to Embassy officers

that Aerothai had contacted his committee with similar

complaints. Suphap said Aerothai had provided him with a

letter stating that over 80 incidents of radio interference

had occurred since January, all in Northeast Thailand. Most

incidents occurred near an airport in Buriram province. No

claims of interference in Bangkok were stated in the letter.

 

POLICE PAY A VISIT TO COMMUNITY RADIO ICON

 

¶6. (SBU) Controversy over RTG regulation of an estimated

2,000 FM community radio stations came to public light the

week of May 18 when Royal Thai Police (RTP) “visited” the

broadcasting studio of a popular Bangkok radio host, Anchalee

Paireerak. Anchalee’s political programs, though not

virulently anti-government, are noted for their critical

analysis of the Thaksin administration. Anchalee confirmed

that police came to her station on May 18 and requested to

see the tower. They were turned away since they did not

possess a search warrant, and the owners of the building

decided not to let the police into the studio or to inspect

the tower on the rooftop. Poloff contacted Anchalee who

stated that the PRD has now ordered her station to lower its

broadcast antenna from atop the Thai Petrochemical Industry

(TPI) tower and to place it no more than 30 meters above the

ground by May 25. She reported that this would effectively

shut down the station on May 25 until technical arrangements

can be made. She said that the signal strength of the

station is no more than 30 watts and that the antenna itself

is not more than 30 meters long. However, since the

transmission tower sits atop a multi-story modern office

building, it is more than 30 meters above the ground.

Anchalee stated that she had attempted to confirm with

Aerothai if her station or other community radio stations

were interfering with air traffic signals but no one at

Aerothai would confirm such claims directly to her. She said

the response of most community radio operators was that the

RTG’s claim of radio interference with aviation was just a

ruse for a crackdown on radio stations critical of the

Thaksin government.

 

¶7. (SBU) Poloff also spoke with Supinya Klangnarong of the

NGO Campaign for Popular Media Reform (CPMR). Supinya is the

defendant in a criminal and multimillion-dollar civil libel

lawsuit filed by Shinawatra Corporation (Shincorp), founded

by PM Thaksin and currently owned by members of his immediate

family. In 2003, Supinya had published a study claiming that

the PM’s net worth increased exponentially as a result of

Thaksin’s increased hold on power in the Thai Parliament

increased. Supinya stated she had spoken out recently in

public in support of Anchalee and others as she “could not

stand by and watch the government make excuses” to suppress

other critical voices. She said that even though her libel

trial is set to begin in 2 months time, she has a

responsibility to support others who face interference from

the RTG. She noted how surprised she was at the growth of

community radio, reflecting upon a time only 4 years ago when

one of the first stations opened in Kanchanaburi province.

By 2002, there were several hundred and now she stated that

no one knows for sure the real number nationwide but that it

could be up to 3,000. She dismissed claims of radio

interference with air traffic as baseless, noting that if

there were a real safety issue with aircraft communication,

especially with Don Muang International Airport in Bangkok,

the RTG, especially the military, would not wait so long to

shut down stations.

 

¶8. (SBU) COMMENT: The regulatory void that has allowed

community radio to flourish in the last few years has been a

mixed blessing. Industrious Thais have taken advantage of

the relatively “free market” of airwaves to fill them up with

hundreds of small locally run stations. They continue to

operate “under the radar” of the Government to some degree,

while offering a critical alternative to the voice of

RTG-controlled stations. The current spat over reported

interference with air traffic communications is part of a

larger battle to come over the establishment of the NBC.

Once that independent body is up and running and clearly in

charge, its directives will set the tone for the Thaksin II

administration’s commitment to freedom of the press for

community radio and all broadcast media. END COMMENT.

ARVIZU

Written by thaicables

August 28, 2011 at 6:16 am

06BANGKOK5837 The Coup and the Media: TV Censorship and Print Freedom

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“79318″,”9/22/2006 0:57″,”06BANGKOK5837″,

 

“Embassy Bangkok”,

“UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY”,”

“,”null

Debra P Tous 09/27/2006 10:34:21 AM

From DB/Inbox: Debra P Tous

 

Cable

Text:

 

UNCLAS SENSITIVE BANGKOK 05837

 

SIPDIS

CXBKKSVR:

ACTION: PA

INFO: ECON POL CHRON DCM

 

DISSEMINATION: PA1

CHARGE: PROG

 

APPROVED: PAO: ACASPER

DRAFTED: AIO: LSTONE

CLEARED: POL: SSUTTON IO: KBOYLE

 

VZCZCBKI840

RR RUEHC RUEHZS RUEHCHI RUEHUL RHEFDIA RHHMUNA

DE RUEHBK #5837/01 2650057

ZNR UUUUU ZZH

R 220057Z SEP 06

FM AMEMBASSY BANGKOK

TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 1810

INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS

RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 2472

RUEHUL/AMEMBASSY SEOUL 2124

RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC

RHHMUNA/HQ USPACOM HONOLULU HI”,”UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 005837

 

SIPDIS

 

STATE FOR EAP/MLS; EAP/PD; EAP/P

 

SENSITIVE

 

E.O. 12958: N/A

TAGS: KPAO, PHUM, TH

SUBJECT: The Coup and the Media: TV Censorship and Print Freedom

 

1. (SBU) Summary: Thai army troops continue to occupy almost all

Thai TV network studios, and are monitoring their broadcasts.

Thailand\’s major cable network has stopped blacking out broadcasts

from CNN and BBC whenever Thaksin\’s name is mentioned or image

shown. Commercial radio stations are operating, although provincial

community radio stations have closed. Newspapers report no

interference. At least one political web board was shut, but is

back up and includes some mildly critical postings. End summary.

 

TV: Armed Troops in Studios

 

2. (SBU) During the night of the coup, all Thai free-to-air

broadcast stations aired the same feed from army-owned and operated

Channel 5, but by mid-morning the next day they had returned to

\”regular\” programming, mostly light entertainment and informational

shows. Newscasts continue to air at their regularly scheduled times

and reports include factual – positive – news of the coup. News

commentary, never a very large segment of Thai TV programming, has

largely ceased. The exception is the all-news-format Nation

Channel.

 

3. (SBU) Embassy staff visited various TV stations. At ITV, the

network owned by Thaksin before he sold it to Temasek, armed

soldiers lined the front gate, front door, and newsroom. A huge

truck and armored vehicle were parked near the entrance, with more

vehicles at the exit. ITV reporters and anchors said the military

asked them not to broadcast material that might have a \”negative

impact\” or \”cause any resistance or disturbance.\” They are not

editing or reviewing material, although they are watching the

broadcasts. ITV staff acknowledged that, at least initially, they

felt the soldiers\’ presence had an \”oppressive\” effect on their

work. Likewise, the privately owned satellite Nation Channel has a

significant military presence, with armed guards and trucks at the

gate and five soldiers with rifles (with the clips out) outside and

inside the newsroom.

 

4. (SBU) Adisak Limprungpatanakij, president of the Nation

Broadcasting Corporation and avidly anti-Thaksin, cited a live

interview they aired with anti-coup content to make his point that

the coup has not affected press freedom. He said he believed the

military commander, who told him the troops were to provide security

to the Nation Channel and assist in linking to Channel 5 pool

coverage. Nation Channel staff happily keep the soldiers well-fed

during their stay.

 

5. (SBU) In contrast, the entertainment-oriented Channel 3 has only

a few soldiers guarding the entrance and news building, with no

trucks or equipment. A Channel 3 producer said the military has

requested that the station not air negative comments about the CDRM.

 

6. (SBU) Notably, there is no troop presence whatsoever at ASTV, the

free satellite TV network owned by anti-Thaksin campaigner Sondhi.

On coup night, no one asked them to air the Channel 5 pool coverage,

although they did so voluntarily when a statement was expected.

ASTV continues to broadcast without interference.

 

7. (SBU) CNN, BBC and MSNBC are now broadcasting normally. For two

days after the coup, pictures of or interviews about Thaksin

triggered an interruption with still pictures of movie stars. For

example, UBC cut a BBC interview with Pasook Pongpaijit, an academic

mildly critical of the coup, and a CNN interview with Paul Handley,

author of a book critical of the King.

 

The Night of the Coup: All Army Pool

————————————

 

8. (SBU) Reporters offered insight into media events the night of

the coup, as well. State-owned MCOT Channel 9 reporters said they

aired Prime Minister Thaksin\’s emergency statement only after ITV

refused. After Thaksin had been on the air for a couple of minutes,

armed army personnel burst into the Channel 9 studio, asked where

the Control Room was, and demanded that the technicians cut off the

broadcast. The screen went blank for a few minutes, and then

Channel 9 began running the Channel 5 stock footage paying homage to

the King. CNN interviewed Deputy Prime Minister Surakiat in New

York shortly after that, and a few minutes later UBC, the MCOT-owned

cable operator, cut transmission of CNN, MSNBC, and BBC.

 

Print media: Freer post-Coup?

——————————

 

9. (SBU) PA visits to print media revealed no overt censorship or

intimidation. Thai Rath and Bangkok Post newsrooms were operating

normally. Pana Janviroj, president of the Nation Multimedia Group,

said no troops have entered the Nation newsroom or its Thai-language

sister papers: Kom Chad Luek and Krungthep Turakit. When asked

about self-censorship, Pana said, \”We sympathize with the CDRM, so

there is (no need for) self-censorship.\” A Thai Rat reporter

claimed he felt freer to report than before the coup. Bangkok Post

reporters said that, although the CDRM had issued a statement asking

for the media\’s cooperation in reporting news, they had seen no

evidence of pressure to influence the print media.

 

Radio: Large Stations Open, Community Radio Closed

——————————————— —–

 

10. (SBU) Large-scale commercial radio stations continue to operate

in Bangkok. One well-known radio personality noted on air that, in

contrast to past coups, no one tried to review or censor broadcasts.

However, community radio stations have been temporarily banned in

the provinces; local military officials have said this is because

these stations are difficult to monitor and control.

 

Web: Content to be Monitored, Some Critical Postings

——————————————— ——-

 

11. (SBU) According to news posted on a popular web board,

Hansa.com, the Council for Democratic Reform under the

Constitutional Monarchy (CDRM) called in all Internet Service

Providers (ISPs) to try to control website content, under threat of

closure. Thus far, the CDRM has not closed any website completely.

The CNN and BBC websites continue to function normally. All of the

major Thai chat sites have announcements posted that the country is

under Martial Law and postings should be \”careful and constructive\”.

The \”Politics Board\” of Pantip.com was shut down yesterday

following an influx of strong anti-coup messages. The board is back

up, and even now, roughly half of the messages are mildly critical

of the coup, although opinions are expressed in a sarcastic way.

Messages include

— I want a PM from an election, not from a gun barrel.

— What will happen to the economy? I bought a lot of shares!!

— How can we go on group tours if they won\’t let us gather more

than 5 people?

— How long will it take for Thais to forget all about this? One

answer: 48 hours or less! Thais forget fast.

— Tanks are drifting to Bangkok! Can they be ticketed for turning

without signaling?

 

12. (SBU) Comment: Post has made our views about the importance of

press freedom clear to General Sonthi and other coup members. Their

response has been to reiterate that there is \”no censorship\” while

acknowledging that some news cutouts are occurring. End comment.

 

BOYCE

Written by thaicables

July 13, 2011 at 5:55 am

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