Thai officials raid, close a critical Bangkok radio station

Bangkok, Thailand, August 11, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is deeply concerned about the Thai government’s escalating harassment and intimidation of the media. Police on Tuesday raided and shut down FM 92.25, a Bangkok community radio station known for its critical reporting of the prime minister, and threatened to arrest its journalists if they continued to broadcast news.

Police and officials from the prime minister’s office charged the station with “disseminating false information” and “inciting the public against the government.” They also filed criminal charges against the station for violating transmission laws limiting the wattage and coverage area of radio stations, alleging that the FM 92.25 signal interfered with airport signals.

“The Thai government’s persistent harassment and intimidation of the media is damaging the country’s democratic credentials,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to immediately halt these heavy-handed tactics and allow the media to do its job of checking and balancing the government.”

FM 92.25 is among more than 2,000 community radio stations operating across the country. Its closure follows a series of recent government actions against the station, including earlier police raids and the shuttering of the station’s Web site.

In another development, Thai Transport Minister Pongsak Raktapongpaisal threatened to file criminal defamation charges against the English-language daily Bangkok Post, saying the paper’s coverage of cracks in a runway at Bangkok’s new international airport had damaged the country’s international image. He made the comments during radio and television interviews on Wednesday.

The Bangkok Post initially reported that cracks were visible in the middle of the runway, but editors later apologized and retracted the story when it became apparent that the fissures were on the edges. Government officials said the exposed fissures result from standard construction techniques allowing the surface to contract and expand in hot weather. Thaksin has repeatedly complained about the Bangkok Post‘s coverage of his government, alleging that the paper’s reporting is biased.

The transport minister’s threat is part of an escalating trend in which politicians or their affiliated business interests are pursuing criminal and civil complaints against the Thai media. Picnic Corp., owned by family members of former Deputy Commerce Minister Suriya Lapwisuthisin, filed a 10 billion baht (US$240 million) criminal defamation suit last month against the daily Matichon newspaper, and a 5 billion baht (US$120.5) suit against its sister business publication, Prachachat Tooragit.

The Thai-language daily Thai Post and media reform activist Supinya Klangnarong are defendants in a pending criminal defamation case brought by the Shin Corp., a communications company owned by the prime minister’s family. The Shin Corp. is seeking US$10 million in damages in an accompanying civil suit.