4 October 2005
Source: Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra filed clipping criminal and civil lawsuits against a media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul and demanded 500 million baht (over 12 million dollars ) in damage for slandering him in Sondhi’s banned political talk show.
In the lawsuit, filed with Bangkok Criminal Court on 30 September, Thaksin named the founder of Manager Media group and Sarocha Pornudomsak, hosts of the cancelled “Thailand Weekly “brodcasted on the Channel 9 station.
On the same day, Thaksin also named Sondhi’s company ThaiDay Dot Com, which produced of the axed television program, and the ThaiDay English-language newspaper which is distributed inside the International Herald Tribune in a separate civil lawsuit. He demanded 500 million baht in damage compensation.
On 4 October Thaksin’s lawyers told the press that the defamation charges were triggered by Sondhi and Sarocha’s comments during a September 9 program in which they implicated that Thaksin involved with the appointment of a group of senior monks to perform caretaker duties on behalf of the Supreme Patriarch. The two also questioned Thaksin might infringe upon a royal prerogative.
“The two defendants took advantage of their role as media professional to slander and falsely accused the plaintiff beyond the boundary of media freedom,” according to the criminal lawsuit.
The management of channel 9, which was run by state-owned but now listed company MCOT Plc, cited the fact that the two hosts took one-sided and unfair comments against the individuals and made unnecessary comments about his Majesty the King in pulling out the program on 15 September.
It is the first time Thaksin himself sued the media for defaming him although there has been a remarkable increase in the use of defamation laws to silence critics of the government and of rampaging corruption since he took office in 2001.
“SEAPA is alarmed by an increase of defamation lawsuits against the Thai media. Yet Prime Minister Thakin’s fresh lawsuits filed against the founder of Manager Group has once again confirmed how the defamation law has been disproportionately wielded against the media as a mean to undermine its independence in reporting on and criticizing the government performance and individual politicians,” according to SEAPA statement.
SEAPA is concerned that the use of defamation laws against the media will have a chilling effect on the freedom of expression in Thailand. Especially, when it was applied in the environment where there is a practice of self-censorship among the media amids the use of state emergency power and there is a high skepticism the state is behind even commercial bid to take over independent newspapers,” said SEAPA.
In August, civil society has registered protest against hostile bids by an entertainment media giant GMM Grammy Group to take over Thailand’s two leading news groups which respectively published leading local daily, “Matichon” and English-language daily, “Bangkok Post”.
The bids are construed as an ill will aimed at undermining the independent and pluralistic media as GMM Grammy Group chairman Paiboon Damrongchaitham, who is known to have close relation with Thaksin explicitly said he would want to have his company’s say in the newspapers’ management.