Popular radio broadcaster knocked off the air

New York, February 15, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists is concerned about recent news reports that Thai radio broadcaster Chirmsak Pinthong’s popular talk news program has been cancelled.

Chirmsak told local reporters that his program was cancelled after Jakrapob Penkair, a minister in the prime minister’s office, called FM 105 station’s concession holder, Fatima Broadcasting International Co., and requested that they remove the program known as “Chirmsak’s Viewpoints” from the station, which is owned by the state-run Public Relations Department.

Private concessionaires in Thailand produce news programs for state-owned radio and television stations. Previous Thai governments and military agencies have regularly censored broadcasts through concession holders, often threatening not to renew their contracts, which are usually granted on a one- or two-year renewable basis.

The cancellation of the program comes just days after the prime minister’s office announced plans to establish a task force to monitor news balance on state-owned broadcast media. The Thai government and military currently own all of Thailand’s estimated 525 radio frequencies.

“We call upon the government to respond to these allegations and explain the reasons for the removal of the radio program,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We are concerned that the allegations sound similar to the intimidation tactics previous Thai governments have used to stifle media criticism of their administrations.”

According to local news reports, the new government took offense at Chirmsak’s on-the-air refutation of Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej’s claim in a recent CNN television interview that only one person was killed during a controversial government crackdown on pro-democracy student demonstrators on October 6, 1976.

Chirmsak referred to independent accounts saying that at least 41 students were killed in the violence. Samak had broadcast a right-wing radio campaign against the student activists prior to the crackdown, according to the BBC.      

Jakrapob has publicly denied allegations that he or any government official ordered the removal of Chirmsak’s program from the air, saying that censorship “is not government policy.” He blamed “invisible hands” who are attempting to discredit the government for stirring the controversy, according to the Web site of Bangkokbased The Nation daily newspaper.