Reporters Decry Editor’s Removal

21 February 2004
Source: The Nation

Journalists at the Bangkok Post yesterday demanded assurances from their employer that editorial independence would be maintained at one of Thailand’s oldest newspapers following the murky transfer of editor Veera Prateepchaikul.

About 80 Post journalists signed a statement deploring what they perceived as an ominous sign, as Veera is known to have been under pressure from the management following news reports critical of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The statement was submitted to Suthikiati Chirathivat, chairman of Post Publishing’s executive board, who had a tense two-hour meeting with the reporters.

“There is no single greater asset to this company than our brand, reputation and image among our readers that the Bangkok Post remains objective and committed to supporting what is right and opposing what is wrong,” said the statement, which was faxed to other media outlets.

“To turn from this road will lead us astray. To compromise these principles will betray those very qualities that are held to be our greatest strengths among our readers. When we question the importance of and commitment to editorial independence, we challenge the very bedrock of our existence.”

Kowit Sanandang was named new editor, replacing Veera, who had been in the position for just a year-and-a-half. Veera was yesterday appointed deputy editor-in-chief of Post Publishing with a duty to assist editor-in-chief Pichai Chuensuk-sawadi in overseeing and coordinating editorial policy, administration and budgets of the company’s editorial units.

A management press release denied the changes were a result of political pressure.

“With regards to press reports that the change in the editorship is a result of political pressure or interference, Post Publishing’s executive committee chairman Suthikiati Chirathivat denied that this was the case at a meeting with Bangkok Post reporters after the board of directors’ meeting,” it said.

“Khun Suthikiati also assured the Bangkok Post would adhere to its joint editorial policy issued to staff last year that both newspapers [Bangkok Post and Post Today] would report the news in a straightforward, accurate, balanced and fair manner. The joint policy also states that both papers will publish only true stories and not bow to pressure from politicians or business interests to do otherwise.”

This, however, did little to calm the Post’s journalists. Some of them insisted during interviews with The Nation yesterday that the management had repeatedly tried to censor “negative” stories about the government.

Veera, president of the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), joined the Post in the 1970s as a cub reporter. In 2002, he was elected president of the TJA and re-elected for a second term last year.

Under his editorial guidance, the Post has run several articles critical of Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra’s leadership during the past 18 months.

According to an informed source, the December 4 edition last year, which carried a headline quoting the King as advising Thaksin not to be an arrogant leader, had greatly upset the prime minister.

Earlier, the Post had referred to Thaksin’s leadership style as “one-man rule”.

Veera’s transfer has drawn criticism from media experts and political activists who believe the change is a direct result of political pressure. Chulalongkorn University’s mass communications lecturer Pirongrong Ramasoota Rananand described Veera’s transfer as a “slap in the face” for Thai journalism, while Supinya Klangnarong, secretary-general of the Campaign for Popular Democracy, said the incident confirmed that the country’s media freedoms faced a serious threat.

The Bangkok-based Southeast Asian Press Alliance (Seapa) said it considered Veera’s transfer to be an infringement of press freedoms. Political interference in several Thai newspapers was increasing alarmingly, it noted.

The Thai Rak Thai Party promptly denied it had anything to do with the transfer. “Please be fair to us,” said spokesman Suranan Vejjajiva. “It’s their internal affair, so how could the government or our party have had influence on such organisational things?”

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