The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) is deeply concerned over the escalation of violence against media workers covering anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok, with at least two physical assaults reported during the rallies on Sunday, 22 December 2013.
“SEAPA reiterates its stand that under no circumstances are attacks against journalists justified nor should they be tolerated.
“Criticisms aimed at the media should never take the form of violence as journalists have a duty to report the news to the wider public as best as they can,” said SEAPA executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran.
On 22 December, three media workers, of whom two were women reporters, were subject to assaults by demonstrators who claimed media reports about the Sunday rallies in Bangkok were biased.
A group of protesters threw water towards Penphan Laemluang, a reporter of state-owned Channel 9, while one man pulled and hit her left arm in an attempt to bar her from leaving the protest site near Democracy Monument where the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC)’s protest base was located.
Penphan was reporting on the rallies on the station’s outside broadcasting (OB) van at around 4pm. As she came down from the van, the protesters rushed to her after a man shouted accusing the station of being a slave to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The reporter apologized to the group and insisted she did not report about the crowd size.
The crew’s assistant photographer was pushed to the ground by the protesters and almost beaten and but was saved by other colleagues. Protestors also targeted their van as it left the scene. Penphan has since lodged a police report at the Dusit Police Station.
In a separate incident, Varunee Suesatsakulchai, a reporter from another state-owned station, Channel 3, was almost assaulted by protesters as she completed her field report around Ratchadamnoen Avenue. She was lucky to escape in time.
In the latest incident today, a reporter from a free TV station, the Thai Public Broadcasting Service, was jeered at and almost lynched by a group of protesters as he was covering the first day of the registration of party-list candidates for the February 2 general elections at the Thai-Japanese Youth Center’s sport complex in Din Daeng.
According to news reports, Voravit Chimmanee had to hide himself inside the car belonging to another television channel. A protest leader, Kosol Suksai claimed that the protesters thought Voravit was a party candidate, as the reporter dressed formally and did not wear the green press armband. The armband was issued by the Thai Journalists Association (TJA).
Dozens of TV crews and printed media workers were briefly stranded inside the buildings of the sport complex, Dindaeng Police Station, Department of Special Investigation that were seized by the demonstrators.
The 22 December incident prompted a meeting between representatives of TJA today, Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the Council of Professional Broadcasters of Thailand and the Press Council of Thailand with a PDRC spokesperson, Aekanat Promphan.
A TJA statement said the two sides agreed to take necessary measures to prevent such incidents. Each would identify a point person with the authority to take quick actions if similar incidents occurred. Protest organisers said they would designate an area within rally sites for the OB vans as a safety measure.
“It is obvious that the media is being targeted, and with impunity. We call for speedy and fair investigations into reports of attacks against the media and for the anti-government protesters to convey to all its supporters not to harass or attack media workers,” Gayathry added.
Since the PDRC’s rallies began two months ago, there have been sporadic incidents of harassment or obstruction of work of journalists by demonstrators or the guards. Protesters also raided six free television stations twice to protest against their biased and underreported coverage of the protests.