Radio journalist suspended

15 December 2004
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), Bangkok

ALERT – THAILAND (SEAPA/IFEX) – A radio journalist has been suspended from an army radio station morning news programme in a move believed to have stemmed from his comments on sensitive political issues.

Boonyord Sukthinthai, a freelance newscaster on 101 Hot News programme, learned of the suspension order on 8 December 2004. The order, dated 7 December, said the programme was suspended immediately until further notice. It was issued by We Are One Radio Co, Ltd., the company licenced by the Military Supreme Command to operate its 101 MHZ radio station, known as 101 INN News Channel.

Somchai Sawangkarn, the company’s chief executive officer, said the order was part of the company’s programme restructuring plan, which was scheduled to be carried out by the end of the year.

Boonyord refuted this explanation, however, saying the order came without the usual notice given to programmes being phased out as a result of restructuring.

He told SEAPA that the order may have stemmed from his critical comments on political issues, specifically on the Criminal Court’s 2 December ruling acquitting a Thai columnist for libeling Constitutional Court judges over their 2001 controversial decision to clear Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of alleged asset concealment.

The ruling was considered a victory for the free expression movement, since the court affirmed that the columnist’s account was based on fact and was in the public interest.

Following his comments on the court ruling, Boonyord said he was asked by station management to stop reading political news, a request he rejected.

He is the first known victim of self-censorship in the broadcast industry in 2004, resulting from the government’s control of state-run media.

The state and the army, which own about 500 radio stations nationwide, typically sanitise news coverage via threats to suspend or terminate broadcast companies’ operating licences, or to suspend or remove newscasters who do not adhere to their policies.

Earlier, the Military Supreme Command’s radio management committee sent a letter to 101 MHZ station, urging management to observe caution in reporting on issues deemed sensitive to the government’s policies and national security. The letter, dated 29 September, explicitly stated that the station should supervise live public affairs programmes that invite phone-in comments to ensure the comments are “decent” and do not go against government policies.

For further information, contact Rosario Liquicia or Kulachada Chaipiptat at SEAPA, 538/1 Samsen Road, Dusit, Bangkok, 10300 Thailand, tel/fax: +662 243 5579, e-mail: seapa@seapabkk.org, Internet: http://www.seapabkk.org

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