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Cablegate: More Concerns About Freedom of the Press As Rtg

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BANGKOK 005419

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PROP SOCI KPAO TH
SUBJECT: MORE CONCERNS ABOUT FREEDOM OF THE PRESS AS RTG
RADIO STATION, SUES LEADING ENGLISH-LANGUAGE NEWSPAPER

REF: BANGKOK 04723

1. (SBU) SUMMARY. Two recent moves by the RTG against media
operations critical of Prime Minister Thaksin's government
have renewed concerns within the human rights community that
the government is once again resorting to legal measures to
intimidate the country's press. After being warned twice,
and seeing its website shut down in June, community radio
station 92.25 was raided on August 9 and formally charged
with violating national broadcasting regulations. On August
15, RTG authorities filed a criminal libel lawsuit against
the Bangkok Post after the newspaper published a story on
August 9 (which it retracted one day later) alleging serious
structural problems at Bangkok's new airport. The
government's lawsuit, which seeks 1 billion baht in damages
and a series of apologies, will be heard in September. END
SUMMARY

2. (U) Controversial community radio station Khon Rak
Prachathipatai (People Who Love Democracy) FM 92.25 was
raided in the afternoon of August 9 by thirty officers from
the Royal Thai Police,s (RTP) Crime Suppression Division,
the Public Relations Department and the National
Telecommunications Commission. The station was charged with
(a) transmitting radio frequencies and possessing radio
transmitters without permission, (b) interfering with
mainstream airwaves and (c) a criminal charge of interfering
with aviation transmissions. The station was also verbally
accused of "broadcasting false information", although the
authorities stopped short of charging the station with
slander. Officers also confiscated the station's transmitter
(effectively closing the station down) in a search that
lasted approximately two hours. Thai authorities also
confiscated the station ID cards of some members of staff,
who were told they would be arrested if they continued
broadcasting. A spokesman for the Thai Prime Minister's
office defended the government's actions, arguing the station
had already been warned about these violations in April and
June. The station insists they had already adjusted their
broadcasts to comply with the regulations.

WARNING SIGNS LAST JUNE

3. (SBU) 92.25 is no stranger to trouble. Its website was
briefly shut down on June 20. Embassy contacts believed the
station would cease being a target of government enmity after
the departure of controversial radio host Anchalee
Paireeraka. Ms. Anchalee, a prominent political activist and
fierce critic of the Thaksin administration, frequently
accused the government of corruption in her programs. She
quit on June 23, alleging that she had been followed and
physically threatened and was quitting "to save (her) life."
In a July 2005 meeting, Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch
(HRW) told Poloffs that Anchalee personally believed that she
was the government,s primary target and that the station
would be left alone after she quit.(Reftel A)

CRITICS RAISE CONSTITUTIONAL CONCERNS

4. (U) As of August 22, the station was not back on the air.
A Thai language statement on the station's website stated
that the Government's actions had violated the rights of the
people and may have violated the Thai Constitution. The
Association of Thai Radio and Television Journalists also
issued a statement on August 10 criticizing the raid, and
asserting that the government had "come close" to violating
the constitutionally guaranteed right to freedom of the
press. Dr. Ubonrat Siriyuwasak, a media expert at
Chulalongkorn University, told Poloff she was worried this
raid was marked the beginning of a government campaign to
close down all of the nation's 2000 community radio stations.

BANGKOK POST UNDER SUIT

5. (U) On August 15, government-affiliated Airport Authority
of Thailand and the New Bangkok International Airport filed a
criminal libel suit against the parent company of the Bangkok
Post, one of Thailand's two prominent English language
dailies. The legal action was in response to an August 9
front-page story reporting the existence of severe cracks on
the new airport's runways and that US experts had said it
would have to be re-built. The paper quickly admitted that
the source for the story had clearly been wrong, and printed
a retraction the next day, but the RTG was not assuaged. In
addition to criminal and civil damages, the plaintiffs are
demanding the defendants pay for a massive series of
advertisements in the international print and broadcast media
publicizing the trial's verdict. A Thai court accepted the
lawsuit for consideration and scheduled preliminary
examinations for September 19.

6. (U) In the meantime, the Bangkok Post has launched an
internal investigation into the matter, with results expected
to be announced this week. International press freedom groups
have roundly condemned the lawsuit, including the Southeast
Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), which released a statement
announcing that "the government's course of action is to
harass the press. This...will have a chilling effect on press
freedom in Thailand." The English language "Nation"
newspaper has also been highly critical of the lawsuit
against its arch-rival, calling the government's action "a
very rare and staggering legal move."

7. (SBU) COMMENT. The lawsuit against the Bangkok Post and
the closures of the radio station and the website on legal
technicalities appear to many here to be evidence of the
RTG's continuing resort to use the legal system to "punish"
media enterprises critical of the government. The raid on the
radio station, involving thirty law enforcement personnel,
appeared gratuitous. In light of these recent developments,
some editors, broadcasters and NGOs may be tempted to
self-censor themselves to avoid incurring the wrath of the
RTG. Though some in the government may claim "victory", it
rings hollow- a cowed press is hardly in the country's best
interest. END COMMENT.
BOYCE

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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