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6/24/2005

Closure

Filed under: General,thailand — admin @ 7:28 am

Condemnation after closure of websites and community radios

Reporters Without Borders protested as Thaksin Shinawatra’s
government demonstrated a toughening stance towards critics, closing
several community radios and two alternative news websites in the
space of a week.

The organisation said it was particularly concerned at the closure on
21 June of two controversial websites http://www.fm9225.com and
http://www.thai-insider.com, apparently on the orders of the Ministry
of Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

“Thailand already blocks access to thousands of sites considered
‘inappropriate’, particularly pornographic, but also some
publications exposing ‘cases’ implicating the authorities,” the
organisation said.

“However this is the first time to our knowledge that the minister
has ordered a host to close a news website. It sets an extremely
serious precedent, all the more so since the government refuses to
justify its decision and even pretends not to have made it.”

“We would like to remind it that the closure of an online publication
can only be decided by a court; it cannot be justified by an
administrative decision.”

According to the English-language daily Bangkok Post, the ICT
ministry directly contacted the web hosts companies to get the
websites removed from the Web. The ministry has so far denied being
behind this censorship.

The website www.thai-insider.com carried articles exposing corruption
and implicating the government. Its head, Ekkayuth Anchanbutr, a
fierce opponent of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, has already
moved his site to another host. Thai Insider can now be accessed on
www.akeyuth.com.

The site, www.fm9225.com posts broadcasts by several community radios
such as FM 92.25, which is critical of the government. According to
Thai daily The Nation, a manager of the site said he had received a
letter from the department of the ICT ministry responsible for the
Internet saying that the site was endangering “the country’s unity
and security”.

For more information on Internet censorship in Thailand, see:
http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=1074

The website closures come at a time when the government has begun a
trial of strength with a number of community radios. The authorities
have talked about wanting to regulate the sector, which comprises
more than 3,000 stations, while some of the radio’s management see it
more as a bid to bring them to heel.

At least two such radios have been closed since a deadline was passed
on 15 June by which all community radios had to register and to
resolve their “technical problems”.

Reporters Without Borders is asking the government to try to find
negotiated solutions to resolve the technical problems. “The rapid
development of community radios is good news for pluralism of news
and information in Thailand. It is regrettable that the government
should be tempted to snuff out these fledgling radios,” said the
organisation.

Agents of the Public Relations Department (PRD) and the regulatory
body the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) closed two
Bangkok community radios Huay Kwang and Bang Khen on 17 June 2005.
The transmitter of the first and the antenna of the second were
seized. The authorities said they had been using non-regulation
equipments which was interfering with signals from other radios and
with aviation.

The new regulations governing community radios limit their output to
30 watts and a range of less than 15 kilometres. It also bans the use
of antennas higher than 30 metres. Operators say they need 500 watts
and 60-metre aerials.

Radio controllers who fail to comply with these technical rules could
face up to five years in prison and a fine of 100,000 baht (about
2,000 euros).

The government issued two warnings in May to the station FM 92.25
that its antenna was too high. To avoid closure, FM 92.25 took down
its antenna and launched the website www.fm9225.com.

Thai journalists contacted by Reporters Without Borders said that the
summary sanctions taken by the PRD against community radios could be
explained by the authorities’ determination defend its own position
in the sector. The PRD in fact manages nearly 200 stations. The army
has two TV stations and 120 radios.

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