March 5, 2002
His Excellency Thaksin Shinawatra
Via facsimile: 66-2-282-8587
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is gravely concerned about a government order to ban radio programs produced by the Nation Multimedia Group. This appears to be the latest in a series of moves designed to stifle the country’s free press, one of the cornerstones of Thai democracy.
On March 4, a Defense Department official ordered Smart Bomb, the company that licenses airtime on FM 90.5, to discontinue programming produced by the Nation Multimedia Group. The order was effective today.
While defending the ban, Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh, who is also the minister of defense, claimed that the Nation group’s radio programs had “unreasonably criticized the government.”
FM 90.5 is owned by the Defense Department, which licenses airtime to private companies. (Most Thai broadcast outlets remain in the hands of the army and government agencies, a legacy of long years of military dictatorship.) These companies, in turn, hire third parties to produce the actual programming. The Nation group supplied eight hours of daily programming to FM 90.5.
The Nation Multimedia Group, which also owns the English-language daily The Nation and the Thai-language business daily Krungthep Turakij, is one of the largest independent media organizations in the country.
The order followed last week’s broadcast on FM 90.5 of an interview with Prasang Soonsiri, a leading critic of the current government. In the interview, Prasang criticized the government’s reaction to an article in the January 10 Far Eastern Economic Review, which discussed tensions between Your Excellency and the venerated King Bhumibol Adulyadej. The administration banned circulation of the January 10 Review and subsequently issued a deportation order for the magazine’s two Bangkok-based correspondents.
The interview with Prasang Soonsiri also aired on Nation Channel, which is produced by the Nation group for the private television station UBC 8. However, the broadcast of the interview was interrupted. While station officials cited unspecified technical problems, the Nation Multimedia Group issued a statement blaming political interference. In the statement, the Nation group announced that it would cease all political coverage and commentary on Nation Channel pending assurances that its “political news production will be free from all forms of interference, directly or indirectly.”
Since your administration took office in January 2001, local journalists have complained about an erosion of press freedom in the country. Without a free and independent media, Thailand’s reputation as a strong democracy will be at risk.
As a nonpartisan organization of journalists dedicated to the defense of our colleagues worldwide, CPJ respectfully reminds Your Excellency that Thailand’s constitution guarantees press freedom and ensures the rights of journalists to work without interference. We call on you to guarantee the legal right of all journalists and media outlets in the country to report free of direct or indirect pressure from the government.
Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We await your response.