Reporters Without Borders expressed concern about the Thai authorities’ hounding of Anchalee Paireerak, producer and journalist on community radio FM 92.25, who said on 23 June she was planning to leave Thailand and study abroad to escape government harassment.
"The government has been harassing us in every way. We’ve been picked on from the beginning," she said. "At first, the government said our antenna was too high, making our signal interfere with the main radio stations. So we took down the antenna and broadcast through the Internet, which affected no one, but the government still shut down the website," she told the daily The Nation.
Paireerak reportedly received a warning on 22 June strongly recommending that she leave the country. "I don’t want to live in fear, so I’ll study again and do other, non-political things," she said.
The House Committee on Justice summoned Paireerak, who told them about the threats she had received, along with the Surachai Nilsaeng, a cyber inspector from the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Ministry, to testify about the closure of the radio station’s website. He declined to attend saying he was "too busy".
Anchalee told the committee she had been instructed by the Public Relations Department on 20 June to "improve" her radio station’s programming and it had also accused host Samarn Sri-ngarm of using impolite words and fomenting divisions in society.
She said that the cyber inspector sent her a letter the following day saying the website would have to be "made legal" before it could continue broadcasting.
Condemnation after closure of websites and community radios
Reporters Without Borders protested as Thaksin Shinawatra’s government demonstrated a toughening stance towards critics, closing several community radios and two alternative news websites in the space of a week.
The organisation said it was particularly concerned at the closure on 21 June of two controversial websites www.fm9225.com and www.thai-insider.com, apparently on the orders of the Ministry of Information and Communications Technology (ICT).
"Thailand already blocks access to thousands of sites considered ’inappropriate’, particularly pornographic, but also some publications exposing ’cases’ implicating the authorities," the organisation said.
"However this is the first time to our knowledge that the minister has ordered a host to close a news website. It sets an extremely serious precedent, all the more so since the government refuses to justify its decision and even pretends not to have made it."
"We would like to remind it that the closure of an online publication can only be decided by a court; it cannot be justified by an administrative decision."
According to the English-language daily Bangkok Post, the ICT ministry directly contacted the web hosts companies to get the websites removed from the Web. The ministry has so far denied being behind this censorship.
The website www.thai-insider.com carried articles exposing corruption and implicating the government. Its head, Ekkayuth Anchanbutr, a fierce opponent of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has already moved his site to another host. Thai Insider can now be accessed on www.akeyuth.com.
The site, www.fm9225.com posts broadcasts by several community radios such as FM 92.25, which is critical of the government. According to Thai daily The Nation, a manager of the site said he had received a letter from the department of the ICT ministry responsible for the Internet saying that the site was endangering "the country’s unity and security".
For more information on Internet censorship in Thailand, see: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=1074
The website closures come at a time when the government has begun a trial of strength with a number of community radios. The authorities have talked about wanting to regulate the sector, which comprises more than 3,000 stations, while some of the radio’s management see it more as a bid to bring them to heel.
At least two such radios have been closed since a deadline was passed on 15 June by which all community radios had to register and to resolve their "technical problems".
Reporters Without Borders is asking the government to try to find negotiated solutions to resolve the technical problems. "The rapid development of community radios is good news for pluralism of news and information in Thailand. It is regrettable that the government should be tempted to snuff out these fledgling radios," said the organisation.
Agents of the Public Relations Department (PRD) and the regulatory body the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) closed two Bangkok community radios Huay Kwang and Bang Khen on 17 June 2005. The transmitter of the first and the antenna of the second were seized. The authorities said they had been using non-regulation equipments which was interfering with signals from other radios and with aviation.
The new regulations governing community radios limit their output to 30 watts and a range of less than 15 kilometres. It also bans the use of antennas higher than 30 metres. Operators say they need 500 watts and 60-metre aerials.
Radio controllers who fail to comply with these technical rules could face up to five years in prison and a fine of 100,000 baht (about 2,000 euros).
The government issued two warnings in May to the station FM 92.25 that its antenna was too high. To avoid closure, FM 92.25 took down its antenna and launched the website www.fm9225.com.
Thai journalists contacted by Reporters Without Borders said that the summary sanctions taken by the PRD against community radios could be explained by the authorities’ determination defend its own position in the sector. The PRD in fact manages nearly 200 stations. The army has two TV stations and 120 radios.