Thai journalist found guilty of illegal broadcasting in landmark decision

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is deeply concerned about the future implications of the landmark decision that found a Thai journalist guilty of illegal broadcasting.

On Tuesday, February 7, 2006 the provincial court in Angthong found journalist Sathien Janthorn guilty of “possessing and operating (a) radio transmitter without permission” and of “setting up (a) radio station without permission” under the outdated law of the Telecommunication Radio Act B.E. 2498 (1955), despite changes to the rights of broadcasters established under the 1997 Constitution of Thailand.

Sathien was originally sentenced to a six-month imprisonment and a fine of 60,000 baht (US$1,500), however as he provided useful information, his penalty was reduced to a four-month imprisonment and a fine of 40,000 baht (US$1000). His jail term was suspended for two years, and his radio transmitter was confiscated.

He had been charged in 2002 with illegal broadcasting on the Angthong Community Radio Learning Station FM 106.25.

The irony of this decision is that the government’s Public Relations Department, the same agency that took the legal action against him, originally trained Sathien and the arraignment against him only came after he broadcast allegations of provincial government corruption.

Despite the 1997 constitution having provisions for the use of radio and telecommunication resources for the public interest and an independent regulatory body to control them, the government has not acted on these terms, leaving major deficiencies in the constitution and no way for a Thai citizen to use the constitution to defend their rights.

While the Thai Government has allowed more than 3000 new stations to operate without problems, the fear is that now after this victory the government may use this outdated law to control and target independent stations and journalists that are critical of the government.

IFJ president Christopher Warren has voiced concern over the verdict and warned of the vital need for a liberal press with more than just constitutional lip service.

“The IFJ supports an independent and free media, where journalists should be able to report without fear or favour, and with the support of the government, courts and constitution,” Warren said.

“We urge the Government of Thailand to honour its constitutional obligations and cement laws that protect the individual rights of Thai journalists and citizens, so that such an oppressively unacceptable verdict does not occur again,” said Warren.

For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific +61 2 9333 0919

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries around the world