THAILAND: Manager refuses to register as community radio with NTC

Director manager of Manager Radio questions the National Telecommunications Commission's definition of a community radio station and the legality of the NTC subcommittee

Bangkok Post
Monday, August 10, 2009

By Komsan Tortermvasana

Manager Radio will defy a National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) requirement to register its community radio station, saying the definition is unclear.

"We will not register our radio station with the NTC to gain the right for trial broadcasts because we feel it is like filing a false report. Our station does not meet the definition of community radio as defined by the NTC," said Kongkiat Buddhalikit, director of Manager Radio, which broadcasts on 97.75 MHz.

He said he was not even certain if the NTC's subcommittee on radio and television broadcasting has the authority to supervise or issue licences to community stations.

Manager Radio is an affiliate of ASTV-Manager Radio owned by The Manager Group, controlled by media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul. Like other media outlets controlled by Mr Sondhi, it has played an active role in People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest rallies over the past three years.

The station is among at least 1,000 community radio stations that still have not registered compared to 4,000 that have done so.

Community radio stations are generally low-budget operations with limited broadcast coverage and specialised local audiences. Some have become a thorn in the side of authority figures who want to stop them from broadcasting content deemed overtly political or harmful to society.

Stations that register can conduct trial broadcasts for 300 days, according to the NTC, pending the establishment of the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC) as the sole licenser. Attempts to establish a national broadcasting regulator have been made on and off for more than a decade.

Mr Kongkiat said there were three types of community stations: for the community, for public listening, and for business. But he said not all were true community stations because to fit that definition they must be non-profit.

"But in reality, most community radio stations have commercials and make profits," he said.

He said the NTC subcommittee had stated that its role was merely to issue temporary licences, but that operators in two categories -- business and public listening -- could not receive licences. So when the NTC said that all stations had to register, some believed that registering when they did not meet the commission's own definition was tantamount to filing a false document, he said.

He also said the subcommittee's legal status was questionable.

The subcommittee came about from an interpretation of a provisional article in the Radio and Television Act of 2008, which said that the NTC could issue provisional licences for a year while awaiting the establishment of the NBTC.

Mr Kongkiat said he did not trust the government in any case because Manager Radio was a big target due to its political nature.

"The state wants to put us in a corner to check our qualifications and take action immediately if our station's direction does not correspond with state policy," he said.

He cited the case of another station affiliated with businessman Prachai Leophairatana, who headed the troubled company formerly known as Thai Petrochemical Industry (now IRPC and controlled by PTT Plc). The Public Relations Department refused to register the station on grounds that it was illegitimate.

Mr Kongkiat said the 97.75 MHz bandwidth was the only radio channel run by Manager Radio, but several other community stations used some of its content, including 92.25 MHz of the TPI Group and 103.25, affiliated with the abbot Luangta Maha Bua of Wat Pa Ban Tad.

Currently, 70% of Manager's content comes from ASTV with 30% self-produced.