Published on June 01, 2005
Community radio broadcasters and activists yesterday accused the Thaksin government of trying to silence dissident voices by cracking down on the often feisty medium.
Anchalee Paireerak, a high-profile community radio broadcaster based in Bangkok whohas been raided by police several times over the past few months, said freedom of expression was facing its gravest threat since the end of the Prem Tinsula-nonda administration in the late 1980s. “There has never been as much constraint to people’s thinking as there is now,” she said. “You first get a warning, then a condemnation, which is followed by your realisation that you have no place to stand.” She was speaking at a symposium on community radio and media freedom at Rangsit University’s College of Social Innovation. Her allegations follow the closure of seven community radio stations over the past month, with the government claiming some of them were either too commercialised or were disturbing both military and civilian aviation communications. It is estimated that there are between 2,000 and 3,000 community radio stations in Thailand, each broadcasting to an area with a radius of 15 kilometres and beyond. “The attempt to re-organise community radio for the sake of order is a big lie,” Anchalee said. “Let us speak the truth about what is really at stake.” Other critics, like Campaign for Popular Media Reform secretary-general Supinya Klangnarong, accused the government of harbouring a hidden agenda and cracking down on only those critical of the administration. “They [community radio stations] have had only four years to grow and now they must censor themselves like the large mainstream media. Anyone who doesn’t toe the line is being punished,” Supinya said. The government has set June 15 as “D-Day” for a total crackdown on the community stations, which currently exist in a legal twilight zone. The Constitution guarantees their right to exist, but delays in appointment of members of the National Broadcasting Commission mean that there are no organic laws overseeing their operation. “We must demonstrate and protest over the government’s D-Day [crackdown],” said National Human Rights Commissioner Charan Ditta-apichai. He urged the government to reconsider its threats to the operators, saying that diversity of opinion was crucial to a democratic society. Anusorn Srikaew, dean of Rangsit University’s Faculty of Mass Communications, agreed. “The state is joining hands with big business to wrest control of community radio back from the community,” he said. Anusorn said the state should understand and respect the fact that the need to safeguard the independence of community radio stations, and keep them free of political and commercial interests, was a result of the May 1992 revolt, when state-controlled radio and television lied to the people. Democrat MP Apichart Sakdisaet said the government’s claim about community radio signals interfering with flight communications had to be substantiated and supporting publicly. “It must not be used as a pretext for a hidden agenda,” he said, adding that those stations being prosecuted appeared to be those that were critical of the government. Pravit Rojanaphruk The Nation
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