Thai Prime Minister drops defamation lawsuits vs media tycoon

6 December 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)

Bangkok–On 6 December Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra dropped all defamation lawsuits against his staunch critic and founder of Manager Media Group, Sondhi Limthongkul, following His Majesty the King’s advice against using lawsuits to silence critics.

Thaksin’s principal lawyer Thana Benjathikul said he was instructed directly by the prime minister to terminate all six lawsuits — three criminal and three civil — brought against Sondhi, Sarocha Pornudomsak, his co-host in the Thailand Weekly political talk show,, the producer of the program, and Manager Media Group.

“The plaintiff does not intend to pursue the cases,” Thana said. The Prime Minister had filed six libel suits against Sondhi and his media companies seeking two billion baht in damages for accusing him, his family, and his friends of corruption, conflict of interest, and of profiting from his term in office.

“The decision follows the king’s advice aimed at securing national unity,’ Thana was quoted by the Manager Media online publication as saying on 6 December.

Other lese majeste charges brought against Sondhi by the police are likely to be dropped as well.

During his 78th birthday address on 4 December, King Bhumibol Adulyadej spoke for the first time of his royal prerogative vis-à-vis free expression, saying he was human, not infallible and can be criticised.

His remarks set the standard for Thai politicians and public officials to be open to criticisms, especially if they are constructive.

Thailand has lese majeste laws which make it illegal to criticise the monarchy. Section 8 of the Thai Constitution states: “The King shall be enthroned in a position of revered worship and shall not be violated. No person shall expose the King to any sort of accusation or action.”

But the King said criticism can be constructive in that it keeps leaders informed and helps to correct any mistakes.

It is not yet clear if Sondhi’s Thailand Weekly, which was axed from the pro-government Channel 9 in mid-September over alleged improper content concerning the monarchy, will be restored.

But Sondhi said he would continue with his program, which has been turned into a “mobile” political talk show that has attracted big crowds. The media tycoon, however, was quoted by the Manager Media online publication as saying that he will not take any legal action against Thaksin.

The King’s advice was also well-received by Cabinet members. According to the 6 December edition of Bangkok’s English daily, “The Nation”, government spokesman Surapong Suebwonglee said all members of the Cabinet had understood and accepted that they were public figures and bound to accept criticism and respond to it in constructive ways.

Political observers believe the king’s advice sought to avoid a political backlash in the wake of high-profile sparring between Thaksin and Sondhi who both invoked and dragged the king’s name into their conflict.

The media tycoon had called for 500,000 people to show up at a public park on 9 December in what he hoped could turn into a giant anti-Thaksin demonstration to rock the government to its foundations.

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