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Thailand 19 March 2002

The Nation Multimedia Group’s news programs taken off the air

Update : On March 19, Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh resigned as the head of the Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO). He will be replaced in the next few days by Korn Dabbaransi, Minister for Public Health. According to Roj Ngamman, editorial writer for the daily newspaper the Thai Post, Chavalit Yongchaidyudh should, in order to take responsibility for his actions, have resigned from his position as Deputy Prime Minister and not that of head of the AMLO.

On March 15, it was revealed that the authorities have apparently asked the cable television operator United Broadcasting Corporation to close the Nation Channel (UBC 8) television channel under threat of being prohibited from showing advertising. According to Adisak Limprungpattanakij, journalist for UBC8, the Thaksin government sees the Nation Channel as its bête noire. In addition, opposition MP Ong-art Klampaiboon confirmed that the financial investigation ordered into the affairs of three journalists from the Nation Multimedia Group was orchestrated by five influential personalities close to Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. According to Klampaiboon the government committee in charge of investigating the Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO)’s controversial decision will never dare attack the five in question. Visanu Krue-ngam, who heads the committee in charge of the AMLO investigation, stated that the state organisation had committed an error in not respecting the journalists’ private lives, but that it was up to the government to decide on any sanctions to apply. The committee head apparently added that the investigations launched by the AMLO do not result from political directives but follow repeated complaints lodged since December 2001. The Thai Prime Minister is, nevertheless, the chairman of the AMLO. Finally, a letter signed by almost four hundred Thai academics, denouncing recent curtailments of freedom of expression in the country was sent to the Prime Minister. 1,195 journalists had already signed a petition on March 11 asking the parliament to intervene in the Nation Multimedia Group affair. On March 13, the administrative court of Thailand, which is responsible for adjudicating cases involving the authorities, ordered the suspension of the Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO)’s investigation into the financial assets of Suthichai Yoon, editor in chief of the Nation Multimedia Group, and department heads Thepchai Yong and Sopon Ongkara. The investigation will be deferred until a verdict is pronounced after examination of the complaint lodged by the three journalists, who have requested the cancellation of the AMLO’s directive. According to their lawyer, Nakhon Chompuchart, an investigation of this kind infringes "the fundamental rights of his clients guaranteed by the Constitution".

On March 9, it was revealed that the Nation Multimedia Group intends to lodge a complaint against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. According to Sopon Ongkara, journalist for the Nation, three managers are preparing to file a complaint against Thaksin Shinawatra and against officers of the Anti-Money Laundering Office (AMLO). The journalist added that the Nation Multimedia Group, in collaboration with the Thai journalists’ association, intends to write an open letter to Parliament requesting an investigation into the government’s handling of the case.

Reporters sans frontières (Reporters Without Borders - RSF) called today on Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra to reverse his government’s decision to shut down broadcasting of news programs produced by the Nation Multimedia Group on 90.5 Mhz. "We wonder when these attacks on press freedom are going to stop," RSF secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to him. "The target is now one of the country’s last remaining independent media groups." RSF also repeated its call for an end to deportation threats hanging over journalists Shawn Crispin and Rodney Tasker, both of the Far Eastern Economic Review.

RSF learns that Gen Akkaradej Sasiprapa, an adviser to deputy premier Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, ordered the Nation Multimedia Group press group to stop broadcasting its news programs on 5 March. The deputy premier said Smart Bomb, the radio licence-holder, was told to cut off the station’s eight hours of programmes a day because it had not paid its frequency allocation fee. Last week, the station broadcast an interview with one of the prime minister’s strongest critics, Sq.Ldr. Prasong Soonsiri, in which he attacked the government’s handling of its dispute with the Far Eastern Economic Review. The programme would normally have been sent out at the same time on the cable TV station UBC 8 (Nation TV), Suthichai Yoon, Sorrayuth Sutthanachinda, Kanok Tarwongsakul and Piraphat Wattanapirom were banned by the government, even though the interview was not in fact broadcast because of "technical problems". In addition, the Nation Multimedia Group announced on 6 March that it was no longer broadcasting political programmes on UBC 8 until the production of political news was "free from any direct or indirect interference." The government had earlier censored another political talk-show on the radio, on 10 January, when it banned the morning news programme "Lok Yam Chao" (The World This Morning) after the presenter read out extracts of a Far Eastern Economic Review article at the centre of the dispute with the government. The programme had been broadcast on FM for the past 20 years on a network belonging to the government’s public relations department. The talk-show presenter said it appeared to have been banned on orders of the government.

Relations between the Thaksin government and the international press have sharply deteriorated since January 2002. After the quarrel with the Far Eastern Economic Review, police recently warned the British magazine The Economist that copies of its latest edition, containing a special report on Thailand, would be seized if they appeared on newsstands.

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