Broadcast blues on the way out

Local radio station in Nong Yasai district in central Thailand sets example for keeping content parochial and non-political

Bangkok Post
Monday, July 20, 2009

By Onnucha Hutasingh

Suphan Buri --- Broadcast regulators are urging community radio stations to drop politics and advertising, and get back to their roots.

That's good news to listeners, who reckon they would rather their radio stayed local.

One radio station in Nong Yasai district in this central province makes no apology for the parochial fare it serves -- and listeners love it for it.

FM 107.75 carries no advertising, and all programmes are geared around the needs of local people, said Sangwan Thanjaroen, 64, who has worked at the station for more than six years.

When on the air, he tells his listeners the history of Nong Yasai district and talks about old songs.

Other broadcasters report on the weather, farming outlook and condition of the roads.

One regular listener, Samreng Jaiman, said news about politicians turned him off. He preferred to hear about his local community.

Another listener, meal trader Yupin Siangmoo, said community radio had brought him closer to his neighbourhood.

"Before I felt my world was smaller... I knew only the people next door and on the route to the market," he said.

"But now, thanks to the radio station, I know more about our local history."

The National Telecommunications Commission, a body regulating the airwaves, (NTC) wants radio stations to focus on serving their communities and avoid political and business interests.

The Nong Yasai station could be a model for community radio stations being created and overseen by the NTC, its supporters say.

The NTC has launched a fresh attempt to bring community radio stations in line with its "local" objective, after it was criticised for letting stations fall into the hands of business and political groups.

The government has allowed community radio stations to broadcast since 2000.

Today, there are more than 5,000 stations, although not all have stuck to their original purpose.

Khon Rak Udon community radio in  Udon Thani, for example, serves supporters of former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The station, run by Kwanchai Praipana, a key member of the red shirt United Front for Democracy against Dictatorship, mobilises red shirts to protest against the government in the Northeast.

During a recent phone-in, Thaksin asked his supporters to stand guard at the station, after Mr Kwanchai claimed the government wanted it banned.

In Chiang Mai, hometown of Thaksin, the Khon Rak Chiang Mai community radio is also linked with politics. The detention last week of its broadcaster Niyom Lueangcharoen angered the red shirts, whose members clashed with police to force them to release him.

Mr Niyom was allegedly found carrying a gun to Chiang Mai airport during a red shirt protest against Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij's visit to the city on Thursday.

The NTC is about to scrap a controversial regulation which allowed stations to air six minutes of advertising every hour.

The regulator says it will allow the advertising to continue for another 300 days, after which organisers will have to find other sources of revenue.

Community radio stations are also told to register with the NTC for an annual licence.

Chalet Thamrongthitikul, coordinator of Nong Yasai community radio, believes true community services are likely to improve once owners start complying.

Nong Yasai community radio survives on donations from villagers to cover its monthly expenses of 4,000 baht. Some listeners give money while others donate CDs to Mr Sangwan to play between news items.