9 November 2004
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
SEAPA is alarmed by reports that the Thai government is putting pressure on the country’s media in line with efforts to control and sanitise news and information about violence in the province of Narathiwat, southern Thailand.
An 8 November 2004 article in “The Nation”, an English-language Bangkok daily, said that print and broadcast journalists were “lured” to a police “press conference” on 4 November, only to be grilled and pressured – for four hours – into surrendering footage and identifying the photographer who had snapped a now controversial photograph of government soldiers shooting
into a crowd of protesting Muslims in Thailand’s troubled south. The photograph, published by “The Nation” on 28 October, refuted the government’s assurances that its soldiers had acted professionally and responsibly in quelling the protests three days earlier.
The military’s blunt handling of the situation led to the deaths of 85 people, including more than 70 who suffocated in a truck in which they were herded, under cramped conditions, and transported.
In the wake of the disastrous handling of the 25 October protests in Narathiwat, the Thai government has been besieged with criticism and calls for new elections. On 29 October, the “Bangkok Post”, Thailand’s biggest English daily, carried a lead story indicating that Muslim leaders were poised to “Ask King to Change Government.” This, too, apparently did not sit well with the police.
While “The Nation”‘s assistant group editor, Kavi Chongkittavorn, blasted in his column police efforts to harass reporters into identifying the photographer who had captured soldiers firing into the crowd of protesters, sources within the “Bangkok Post” toldSEAPA that the Thai police’s Special Branch Division sent a letter to their editors, cautioning them against reporting on “sensitive matters”. “Bangkok Post” editors reportedly took the warning in the context of their report that Muslim leaders wanted the king to step into the issue and pressure government leaders into resigning.
“The Nation”‘s Kavi, who is also SEAPA’s chairman, said the government is clearly looking to control media’s handling of stories on the south.
SEAPA is also concerned that the police’s determined efforts to identify the photographer who snapped photos of soldiers aiming their rifles low into the crowd could itself send a chilling signal to journalists in Thailand.
“Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had promised investigations and transparency in the wake of the Narathiwat incident,” SEAPA executive director Roby Alampay noted. “If he were sincere in that, then he should send the police to welcome the work of the press, who provide written, graphic, and even video records of what really took place. He should not send the police to act like attack dogs out to chase witnesses out of the field.”