Thailand: PM files criminal and civil lawsuits against two journalists
Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra has filed criminal and civil lawsuits against media tycoon Sondhi Limthongkul and demanded 500 million baht (over US$12 million) in damages for slander in Sondhi's banned political talk show.
In the lawsuit, filed with the Bangkok Criminal Court on 30 September 2005, Thaksin named the founder of Manager Media Group and Sarocha Pornudomsak, hosts of the cancelled "Thailand Weekly" programme, previously broadcast on Channel 9 station.
On the same day, in a separate civil lawsuit, Thaksin named Sondhi's company ThaiDay Dot Com, which produced the axed television program, and the English-language newspaper "ThaiDay", which is distributed inside the "International Herald Tribune". He demanded 500 million baht in damages.
On 4 October, Thaksin's lawyers told the press that the defamation charges were triggered by Sondhi and Sarocha's comments during a 9 September programme in which they implicated that Thaksin was involved with the appointment of a group of senior monks to perform caretaker duties on behalf of the Supreme Patriarch. The two also questioned if Thaksin might infringe upon a royal prerogative.
"The two defendants took advantage of their role as media professionals 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 made one-sided and unfair comments against individuals and made unnecessary comments about his Majesty the King in pulling the programme on 15 September.
It is the first time Thaksin himself has 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 [have] 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's] performance and individual politicians," said a 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 [is] applied in the environment where there is a practice of self-censorship among the media amid the use of state emergency power and there is high skepticism the state is behind [the] commercial bid to take over independent newspapers," added SEAPA.
In August, civil society groups protested against hostile bids by entertainment media giant GMM Grammy Group to take over Thailand's two leading news groups, which respectively publish the leading local daily "Matichon" and the English-language daily "Bangkok Post" (see IFEX alerts of 21 and 14 September 2005).
The bids are construed as ill will aimed at undermining 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.
For further information, contact Kulachada Chaipipat at SEAPA, 538/1 Samsen Road, Dusit, Bangkok, 10300 Thailand, tel/fax: +662 243 5579, Internet: www.seapabkk.org