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Community radio station investigated after airing call from deposed prime minister; SEAPA concerned crackdown may follow

(SEAPA/IFEX) - A community radio station that received an "unexpected" call from deposed, self-exiled prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra during a live programme is being investigated for "operating illegally" and "undermining national security".

On 17 May 2007, officers from the Public Relations Department, led by National Broadcasting Commission director Borworn Thecha-in, visited FM 87.75 station in Nonthaburi, a province north of the capital Bangkok, after the station aired the call from Thaksin the previous day.

Speaking live on local media for the first time since he was ousted, Thaksin called for swift elections to restore democracy. He was reported to have called two other radio stations - FM 92.75, the taxi drivers' community radio station, and the web-radio on the Saturday Voice Against Dictatorship website - with the same message.

Borworn denied reports that he had closed the FM 87.75 radio station, stating that the department "had no authority to shut down radio stations and is only responsible for supervising and directing radio broadcasting operations".
Borworn claimed that he was instructed to "investigate the station to ensure compliance with regulations" and that no programme was broadcast when he was there because the equipment was being repaired.

SEAPA is concerned that following this incident, community radio stations may be shut down as department chief Pramoj Rathavinij reportedly said this was an opportunity to deal with some 3,000 "illegal" stations across the country. He was also reported to have ordered his officials to "punish" the station that aired the Thaksin call for "undermining national security".

Lacking a licensing regime, which has been pending for years, community radio stations had been operating under the protection of section 40 of the 1997 Constitution, which identified radio and television transmission frequencies as national resources for use in the public interest. However, the abolition of the constitution following the September 2006 coup d'etat which deposed Thaksin has further muddied the status of these radio stations.

Operating a radio station "illegally" can land a person with a prison sentence of up to five years, or a fine of Baht 100,000 (approx. US$3,007), or both. Officials have reportedly acted against 22 community radio stations in Nonthaburi for using illegal frequencies that allegedly interfered with aviation communications.

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