Thailand's opposition radio keeps its volume up

The Thai government attempted to shut down 'red shirt' radio stations, but stations have managed to stay on air and keep their supporters informed.

• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.

Strains of Thai singing fill the air as volunteers put a finishing coat of paint on the broadcast room in their new community radio station. The song sounds like many played on commercial stations throughout the country, but it’s actually a political anthem.

The singer is going on about democratic rights, and he praises leaders of the “red shirt” movement. The red shirts have been fighting an uphill battle to control the country, but they’ve seen three of their governments removed either by military coup or court rulings.

Supan Fumoon Chareoun, the movement’s deputy secretary for Chiang Mai Province, a stronghold in Thailand’s north, says the media are a key part of their strategy to make sure they are not denied another chance to govern. He says radio stations like this help keep people informed, alert them to antidemocratic moves by the government, and are useful in organizing supporters to protest if needed.

The authorities appear to recognize the power of opposition media. After demonstrators occupied central Bangkok for three months last year, the government moved to shut down more than 40 red shirt radio stations, as well as websites and newspapers.

But the red shirts refuse to be silenced. This station, like others, was built entirely from funds donated by the local community.

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