Year 2001 ‘year of interference’, TJA reports

3 January 2001

BANGKOK — The Thai Journalists Association (TJA) has dubbed Year 2001 “the year of media interference”, citing five major incidents for attempts by Thaksin administration to both directly and indirectly interfere with news reporting.

The association urged the government and politicians and local vest interested groups to stop interfering in the press to ensure its freedom. Existing social and legal mechanisms could be used to tackle the press in the event of unfair reporting, the association said.

It also urged police to be vigilant on actions deemed to threaten press freedom and prosecute those who violated press freedom to ensure safety and freedom of the press.

In its special report released on Dec 30, TJA noted less violence was recorded in Year 2001 for threats and physical abuses against press. However it documented two cases of journalists being killed in what police believed to have been linked to their reportings. The casualties are among nine cases recorded last year for journalists being either physically abused or threatened.

TJA also reported widespread abuses of media ethics and professionalism. The worse case of the year is the bizarre Mukdaharn shooting in which a Thai Rath reporter shot dead three others working for rival local dailiers before killing himself. Police believed the incident was linked to personal matter stemming from their business conflicts in Mudakharn.

The November 18 incident prompted Press Council of Thailand to issued a statement on December 10 warning news organisations especially newspapers these reporters belonged to tighten their management and recruitment procedures , especially those that applied to provincial reporters.

It urged press organisations to discipline violators and ensure standards were maintained.

TJA said although Thailand was praised as a land of press freedom and was selected as a host the June assembly of the International Free Expression Exchange (IFEX) , press freedom and rights are in general in doubt.

TJA said there remained a lack of progress on part of the government to abolish the draconian Press Act of 1941 which deemed out of date and partly contradicted to the present constitution. Moreover, the state agencies still employed this law to axe press freedom, it said.

TJA also criticised the government for the lack of will to press for the media reform process, in particular the enactment of the broadcasting bill in accordance with Article 40 of the constitution

On the contrary, the government had heavily publicised its performance through state-owned media and ignored the reservations of academics and press organisations opposed to such “propaganda”, it said.

TJA noted there were ample evidence that proved the government used its executive power to interference with the management of these state media. These resulted in the termination of several programs on state-owned media which were critical of its performance.

TJA said even privately-owned newspapers could not avoid the state’s influence. The government had prepared to host a seminar on press development, but that was a forum to influence journalists to work in the direction the government favoured.

Use of business influence was also evident in press interference, it noted.

The association cited several incidents in support of its negative assessment as follow

Abuse of State Power to Interfere Media

1) The army-run Channel 5 blocked the Joh Jai (Frankly Speaking) and Thee Nee Prathet Thai (This is Thailand) programs, which would have aired interviews with a Thai female monk Dhammananda Samaneri, formerly Chatsumarn Kbilsingh, a feminist and Buddhist scholar ordained in Sri Lanka. (violation of Article 39 of the consitution, which ensures freedom of expression and of Acticle 40 regarding the braodcasting media reform)

2) The army’s June 29 order for its radio and television stations to air constructive news about the prime minister and cabinet ministers and to publicise government policies and measures. (violation of articles 39 and 41 of the constitution, which ensures the freedom of the press)

3) Public Relations Department also terminated two programms, Rian Song Dan (Two Sides of a Coin) and Tarm Ha Kaen Dharma (The Core of Dharma), on the grounds the host, Chirmsak Pinthong, did not have an announcer’s licence.

4) The cabinet secretariat had told ministers to use the Public Relations Department’s television channel 11 to publicise the government’s performance. (misuse of state-run media)

5) The issuance of Aug 2 letters by Special Branch police, warning Thai Rath and Krungthep Thurakit newspapers for their reports on the share concealment case against Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. ( a violation of article 39 of the constitution, which guaranteed the right to speak, and article 40 regarding media reform)

Threats and Physical Abuses against the Press

1) Thawee Keeratirangsan, Dail News’ reporter for Chum Pae, Khon Kaen was assaulted on February 3, 2001. The motive was believed to have resulted from his reporting on the demonstration of Chum Pae Municipality employees demanding for job extension.

2) A bodyguard of Defence Minister Chavalit Yongchaiyudh’s had pushed and threatened a reporter at the Transport and Communications Ministry on March 16 while interviewing Chavalit.

3) Withayut Saengsopit, a radio host in Surat Thani, was murdered after revealing corruption allegations involving the local municipal council.

4) Kitti Maneechote, Thai Rath’s reporter for Saraburi was attacked on April 10, believed to have been motivated by his reporting on illegal transports business.

5) Kaset Phuengpak, Thai Rath’s reporter for Aang Thong was shot dead on May 2. Police suspected his reports revealing illegal business of a provinical mafia ring as a motive behind the killing.

6) Thanomsak Noonoum, Matichon’s reporter for Trang was assaulted by a group of five yongsters armed with weapons while he was driving. Police suspected his mews scoops revealing the thriving sex trade of women aged under 18 .

7) A brief detention on June 28, 2001 of three iTV reporters by a female truck transport operator, mistaking them for ally of a police gang who takes kickbacks from truck operators.

8) The vehicle of Voravit Patcharaan, The Nation’s reporter for Uttaradit and the editor of Uttaradit Newspaper was smashed while parking. Police believed the incident was linked to his reports on voting rigging and irregularity in construction deal of provincial hall.

9) Veenus Eiamsa-ard, Thai Rath’s reporter for Ubon Ratchathani was threatenedd by a M-67 grenade placed in front of her office on December 19. Police suspected her report exposing vest interests of personnels in �niformŽ was a motive.

Abuses of Media Ethics and Professionalism

1) A stringer for Thai Rath and Daily News for Prathum Thani was involved in a move to overturn the criminal court case involving a senator who was accused of molesting a girl aged under 15. The newspapers in question later fired this stringer.

2) Press Council of Thailand issued a statement dated September 27 urging newspapers to exercise caution in printing pictures or cartoons in the aftermath of September 11 attacks on America, which deem to cause national disunity.

3) Press Council of Thailand issued a statement dated November 16, urging newspapers and other printing documents to tighten its ethic codes and professional standards in response to a complaint that provincial reporters of certain local dailiers have misused their profession for business interests.

4) Press Council of Thailand issued a statement dated December 10 urging newspapers to tighten management procedures and recruitment criterions and penalty codes for offenders for provincial reporters as a deterrence to future abuses of media ethics and their professions.

5) Press Council of Thailand issued a statement dated December 10 urging reporters and news organisations to refrain from taking “valuable gifts” from government officials or politicians during New Year Celebration and vice versa government officials and politicians from giving �aluable giftŽ to reporters and news organisations. Offenders in media circile are subjected to ethical scrutiny.