Wednesday, November 02, 2005

THAILAND: Express support for embattled BBC-Thai service

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION - URGENT APPEALS PROGRAM

1 November 2005

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UA-195-2005: THAILAND: Express support for embattled BBC-Thai service

THAILAND: Declining freedom of speech; Media concentration
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Dear friends,

The UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and British Broadcasting Commission (BBC) have announced that in early 2006 the Thai-language service of the BBC World Service radio will be taken off the air. The closure of the service has been justified as part of restructuring, because according to the BBC it has "low market impact".

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) believes that the decision to close the BBC Thai service at this time is a grave error of judgment. It comes at completely the wrong time for Thailand, where threats to emerging independent media have increased dramatically.

We support calls for a review of the decision to cut the BBC Thai service. Please voice your concerns about the announced closure by writing to the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the BBC. This can be done in a number of ways:

1. Sign the Online Petition, which was initiated by a Thai media reform activist. At time of writing this appeal already had over 1700 signatories and their comments

2. Send a letter of support to the BBC Thai service direct, via their contact page

3. Send a letter to the Foreign Office, either via the nearest British diplomatic mission in your territory or region, or direct. A sample letter and addresses are below.

Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
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BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

The AHRC has been among many other groups and individuals to warn about growing threats to freedom of expression and independent media in Thailand during recent times. For instance, it has pointed to the criminal case against Supinya Klangnarong and the editors of the Thai Post newspaper for allegedly defaming the corporation belonging to the family of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra (UP-111-2005). Its sister organization, the Asian Legal Resource Centre, has expressed its concerns regarding growing restrictions on freedom of expression--in particular, actions against the burgeoning community radio movement in Thailand--to the UN Human Rights Committee (see the section on Freedom of Expression in the "Institutionalized torture, extrajudicial killings & uneven application of law in Thailand" report, March 2005). In its concluding observations after its examination of Thailand's human rights record in July 2005, the Committee expressed concern at "reports of intimidation and harassment against local and foreign journalists and media personnel as well as of defamation suits against them, originating at the highest political level" [CCPR/CO/84/THA, 28 July 2005, para. 18].

More recently, the prime minister has initiated new defamation suits against media owners and professionals (see related news article), while the bulk of Thailand's electronic media has remained in the hands of the national leadership, armed forces and civilian administration. Legal action is also commencing against some persons who set up community radio stations in accordance with a new provision under the 1997 Constitution of Thailand. The government of Thailand has failed in its obligation to establish proper regulations in accordance with that provision and used it as a pretext to treat new radio stations as illegal, where and when convenient for its purposes. International media group Reporters without Borders has also said that media conditions in Thailand are worsening, and ranked the country as 107 out of 167 countries assessed for their media freedom in 2005.

Against this background, the decision by the UK Foreign Office to shut the BBC Thai service suggests that it is out of touch with the reality in Thailand and that the decision was very ill-advised.

SUGGESTED ACTION:

Please add your name to the Online Petition or send a letter of support to the BBC Thai service. Please also write directly to the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office and the director of the BBC World Service. A sample letter follows.

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Dear Sir

Re: Keep BBC Thai service on the air

I have received the news that the Foreign & Commonwealth Office has decided to close the Thai-language service of BBC World Service radio in 2006, on the grounds that the Thai service has "low market impact".

I believe that this decision and assessment is wrong. At a time of growing concern about media freedoms in Thailand, the Thai service of the BBC is constantly sought after for reliable and independent information. In this year alone, there have been numerous legal and verbal attacks on media professionals in Thailand by the authorities. Criminal defamation suits are being used to silence government critics. The once burgeoning community radio movement is now facing severe threats. International media watchdog Reporters without Borders has downgraded Thailand's freedom rating to 107 out of 167 countries surveyed in 2005. The UN Human Rights Committee in July expressed concern at "reports of intimidation and harassment against local and foreign journalists and media personnel [in Thailand] as well as of defamation suits against them, originating at the highest political level". These are some of the many reasons that the BBC World Service should continue broadcasting in Thai.

You have seriously underestimated the popularity, impact and importance of the BBC Thai service. The decision should be reviewed: it is ill-advised and gravely erroneous. Please reconsider, and keep BBC on the air in Thai.

Yours sincerely

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PLEASE SEND YOUR LETTERS TO:

1. Mr. Jack Straw
Secretary of State
Foreign & Commonwealth Office
King Charles St
London SW1 2AH
UK
Tel: +44 20 7008 1500
Fax: +44 20 7008 2144 (ATTENTION: FOREIGN SECRETARY)
Or use the contact page form

2. Mr. David Fall
Ambassador
British Embassy
14 Wireless Road
Lumpini, Pathumwan
Bangkok 10330
THAILAND
Tel: +66 2 305 8333
Fax: +66 2 253 7121 (ATTENTION: THE AMBASSADOR)
E-mail: david.fall@fco.gov.uk

3. Mr. Nigel Chapman
Director
BBC World Service
Bush House
Strand
London WC2B 4PH
UK
Tel: +44 20 7240 3456
Fax: +44 20 7557 1258 (ATTENTION: DIRECTOR, WORLD SERVICE)
E-mail: worldservice@bbc.co.uk (copy to thai@bbc.co.uk)
Or use the contact page form


Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)
19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building,
998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) - 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) - 2698-6367

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