After failing to agree to a new long-term contract with Thailand’s military government, BBC World Service stopped broadcasting shortwave radio programs from a transmitter north of Bangkok at the start of the year.
A Thai government spokesman said the BBC decided to drop its effort for a seven-year lease agreement on the transmitter.
“I would like to inform you that, the Public Relations Department owns the premises and the negotiating counterpart is the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. BBC told us a couple of days ago or so that it would not want to have a new contract,” Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd told BenarNews in a phone interview.
Despite the shutdown, Thai residents have access to BBC News content through the broadcaster’s Thai Service website that went online in November 2016.
The website created controversy shortly after its launch by publishing a profile of King Maha Vajiralongkorn on the day he assumed the throne on Dec. 1 following the death of his father, King Bhumibol Adulyadej, in mid-October.
Two days after the king’s ascension, Jatupat “Pai” Boonpattararaksa, a student activist from Khon Kaen University, was charged under the nation’s strict royal defamation law for allegedly sharing the profile on Facebook.
Jatupat, the first civilian charged with royal defamation under King Vajiralongkorn’s reign was indicted on Feb. 10 and will face a closed-door trial. Only people involved in the case will be allowed to attend hearings.
BBC officials did not comment on the flap, but Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported that the website’s coverage of Thailand was an obstacle in discussions around renewing a lease for the transmitter.
“Despite extensive negotiations, we have been unable to reach an agreement to re-commence transmissions. Given the financial constraints faced by the whole of the BBC, we have reluctantly decided to shut the site,” the BBC said in a Wednesday statement about the Jan. 1 shuttering of its Thai transmitter.
The BBC said it might lay off 45 staff members who worked at the transmitter site in Nakhon Sawan, 240 km (150 miles) north of Bangkok for 20 years. It moved the transmitter from Hong Kong to Thailand when Great Britain handed over the territory to China in 1997.
The transmitter broadcast local language news into tightly controlled countries such as China and North Korea and into places where many still rely on radio, including Pakistan and Afghanistan, AFP reported.
The closure comes even as the BBC plans to increase its output to 40 foreign languages, near its post-World War II peak of 45, AFP reported. The British government announced an additional $352 million for the 2015-2020 period following years of cuts.
The move was partly a response to the expansion of state-sponsored media in Russia, China and Middle Eastern countries. The cash injection also went toward hiring BBC Thai staff in Bangkok and London, AFP reported.