3 March 2003
Source: The Nation
INN staffers say ‘Ruam Duay Chuay Kan’ taken off the air for telling bitter truths
A popular around-the-clock phone-in help programme was taken off the air on Saturday, in a move channel executives said yesterday was intended as criticism of the FM96 frequency’s content by the army, which runs it.
“Ruam Duay Chuay Kan” (“Uniting to Help Each Other” was still accepting calls from listeners when the broadcast was cut off at about 8.20pm on Saturday. The shutdown came as some angry listeners were criticising the Army’s Department of Territorial Defence on air for failing to make it clear whether it would renew a lease contract with the Independent News Network (INN), which operates the popular programme.
Broadcasts of luk thung songs and instrumental music replaced the usual programmes yesterday.
Lt-General Charnwit Sritham-mawut, chairman of the station’s executive board, said yesterday that the content of “Ruam Duay Chuay Kan” leading up to the expiry of its contract on Friday were damaging to the Department of Territorial Defence and could cause public misunderstanding. He was speaking in a statement broadcast on FM96 at about 11.15am.
He said that the department had yet to renew its contract with the INN but that he had given verbal permission for the company to continue operating its programme while a renewal was pending.
But he said the INN had used the air time to attack the department.
He insisted that the station’s |operators had yet to renew the contract or enter into a new deal with any other company. He added that a number of companies had ap-proached the department and that some of them had made “interesting offers”.
The department has reportedly offered to renew the INN contract on the condition that the two parties share the air time, with 12 hours a day each.
Meanwhile Somchai Sawaeng-karn, INN managing director and programme director, said yesterday the contract had been renewed on February 3 and would expire on February 29 next year.
However, he did not disclose whether the INN had agreed to share half of the air time with the army department.
Somchai said the INN had been told that the blackout had been caused by technical problems but he had suspected something was wrong when the “problems” dragged on longer than usual. He said the INN had petitioned the defence minister and the Army commander-in-chief for “justice”.
Meanwhile many taxi-drivers, who are regular listeners of “Ruam Duay Chuay Kan”, yesterday gathered at the INN office building on Pradit Manutham Road in a gesture of support for the programme. Some arrived with banners expressing regret that the programme had been discontinued.
They were told that the INN would continue its news programming on FM99.5 and its website (www.innnews.co.th), which yesterday featured the issue.
A group that called itself the INN Community yesterday issued a statement countering Charnwit’s earlier remarks that the phone-in programme mostly contained “nonsensical matters”. The statement said that the programme was beneficial to society as it allowed listeners to report emergencies and encouraged people to help each other.
Some taxis were yesterday spotted with posters carrying messages in support of “Ruam Duay Chuay Kan”.
Leaflets were distributed calling for a gathering of the programme’s supporters at the Royal Plaza tonight.
A key opposition MP yesterday said he suspected the move was another government attempt to interfere with the media.
Democrat MP and government chief whip Jurin Laksanavisit said that the INN had been “punished” for refusing to report news the way the government wanted.
However, government spokesman Sita Divari insisted yesterday that the government was not behind the decision to delay renewal of the contract.
The INN earlier landed in hot water for broadcasting an interview with Deputy Premier Purachai Piumsombun, who was critical of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra for removing him from his previous position of justice minister following conflicts with certain top permanent officials.