Community Radio Banned: Crisis or Opportunity?

On September 20, the reform council (CDRM) sent a letter to all governors to suspend the operation of community radio stations. It was officially informed as for political reason as the latest constitution endorsed in 1993, supporting the establishment of the community radio, has just been torn out. However, many station owners criticized the order that the council is afraid the community radio might be used for against the council. [Source: Matichon – September 21 through Thai Broadcast Journalists Association webboard]

The Nation, on September 22, also covered the suspension of community radio stations in three provinces in the north, including Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Mae Hong Son. There are about 300 stations that has to be terminated. Also 500 stations in Phitsanulok, in the lower north, have been called for a meeting. The situation looks like the critique of the owners may be valid since Thaksin and Thai Rak Thai party has stronger voices based up there. Additionally, Chiang Mai is Thaksin’s hometown. Therefore, the closure of those stations might be appropriate (for the coup) to avoid the problem that may occur. There is no further decision about how long the termination would take.

Well, the issue may not just be about that…

On the webboard of Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the group of respondents has different thoughts about the order. Not all disagree with the order. There are some folks saying it is a good time to revise the system. A couple of responses wonder if it has a hidden agenda or business connection.

However, Here are some insights on the issues.

A number of community radio stations in Thailand have been established widely across the country after the creation of the latest constitution. Personally, I have not been an active audience of those community radios that much. However, I, as well as others would, assumed they did have more freedom of speech, because the community owns it. Therefore, they should be able to control and community member can engage in the radio.

However, that might not be the case. There was a study done by Weerapong and et al., in 2002, supported by the Thailand Research Fund on the operation of community radio in two provinces in the northeast, Burirum and Nakornratchasima. I think this part of an abstract might describe the issue well enough.

The community radio focuses on magazine programs, reality/information content and community related content, indicating imbalance of format and content, as well as lack of direct response to the majority of listeners, especially farmers.

Meanwhile, their main role is state apparatus through top-down communication manner rather than horizontal and bottom-up communication, a few communities listen to the community radio, and participate as co-producer and decision maker on operational process, and policy planer and maker. On the other hand, some communities participate in program, and function as information sources.

In the operational process, there are many problems such as insufficient policy and the lack of resources, budget, personnel, technical facilities, and people participation.  The operational process is influenced not only by cultures, and society, which are varied factors, but also by political factor.

Although the community radio stations in both provinces may not represent the nature of the community radios of the whole country, I would think if you are not familiar with the community radio in Thailand, this might tell you something.

In fact, the operation and business of community radio have been questioned and criticized in various ways. Most of them are about the connection with major media owners, serving business needs of the owners rather than the community focus.

For example, the radio bandwidth is too strong to interrupt other bandwidth to expand the coverage of the signal. So they can attract more audiences and, yes, ads. As a result, the signals from community radios have interrupt other kinds of wireless communication such as telecommunications, television, or even other radio stations. In fact, the regulation limits the coverage for certain distance. Recently, the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) has opened a couple of communication channels to take the reports regarding the problems from community radio stations including a webboard.

That is why a number of folks would urge this opportunity to revise the regulation and system of community radios. However, is it the the right time? I guess not. I do not think it is the business of the reform council. Also we have more than enough military radio stations. (-_-“)

[Note: It would be more critical to know how community radio stations did on that critical night and the influence of the coup on their operation. However, I have not heard anything regarding to that matter.]

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