Thai journalists caught in crossfire of tense standoff-SEAPA capsule report

As the political crisis in Bangkok escalates, Thai journalists are
increasingly finding themselves caught in the crossfire between two
warring political factions and their respective supporters, with
reports of harassment, shootings, and physical attacks targetting media
offices and practitioners.


Anti-government protesters led by the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) have been occupying Bangkok's two main airports – the Suvarnabhumi International Airport and Don Muang Airport – for more than a week now. More than 200,000 are believed stranded in Thailand, as the protests plunge the country into deeper political crisis and worsening economic fallout from the same.

 

As tensions rise, however, the media has been vulnerable and has indeed come under direct attack.

On November 24, unidentified men aboard a motorized boat along the Chao Phraya River fired grenades at the ASTV head office. Net surrounding the building fortunately deflected the grenades, which fell to the waters and exploded without causing damage or injuries. ASTV is a satellite TV service provider owned by media mogul Sondhi Limthongkul, leader of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) anti-government movement. Its security officials believe the attackers' main target were the satellite dishes on the building's roof.

Four days later, another such attack took place. The launched grenades exploded on the fourth level of the ASTV building, shattering glass windows and injuring a newscaster.

The two airports, focal points of the stand-off, are also the site of direct harassment and intimidation against individual journalists.

A photographer from the Thai-language newspaper "Thai Rath" was attacked by PAD guards at Don Mueang on the night of November 28.

The photographer, who requested anonymity, said a PAD guard struck him from behind, causing him to fall to the ground. At the time, he said he had been taking photographs of another PAD guard beating a man.

He said he was then surrounded by eight or nine guards who snatched his camera and accused him of being an imposter. More guards showed up and assaulted him further until reporters came to his aid, confirming that he was a real photographer.

In another incident, the PAD stopped reporters and photographers from covering the capture of a policeman by PAD guards at Suvarnabhumi Intenational Airport on November 30. The "Bangkok Post" reported that some PAD protesters also hurled insults at the journalists.

Reporters complained that PAD protesters videotaped them while doing their job. One PAD guard tried to see what they were typing on their computers at Suvarnabhumi airport's One Stop Service area, which has been turned into a temporary press room. "The Nation" reported that PAD protesters also cajoled reporters to report only the good side of the PAD.

"Ban Muang" newspaper reporter Natthawut Karanyasophon said two PAD followers at Suvarnabhumi International Airport forced him to take off his white T-shirt marked with the message, "Stop Violence". The guards told him the T-shirt missed the point as only the PAD was treated unfairly.

"The Nation" said other protesters surrounded Natthawut. PAD co-leader Saranyu Wongkrachang stepped in and moved the media's work centre to another area.

Natthawut said the Thai Journalists' Association (TJA) encouraged reporters to wear the T-shirt while they covered stories at Government House to call for peace. He claimed that though he did not fear the protesters, he changed his T-shirt to avoid more trouble.

Also on November 30, "The Nation" reported that PAD guards opened fire at a TV station's OB van at Don Mueang airport, riddling the vehicle with bullet holes. The technician and the driver were unharmed.

Phanumart Jaihork, a TNN relay controller, said he and the driver were lost in the airport vicinity. They stopped at a checkpoint manned by PAD guards in front of the terminal building to ask for directions. Phanumart said he heard gunfire. The guards then told them to drive on and look for a safe place in the airport building.

However, when they passed the second checkpoint, the technician and the driver heard more gunshots, prompting them to flee from the area. The OB van, which bore the TV station's markings, sustained many bullet holes on the sides, tailgate and roof .

Still in Don Mueang, a scuffle almost broke out between AFP and local Thai media photographers and PAD protesters after the latter demanded for the cameras of the photographers after accusing them of taking pictures of a protester without his consent.

Alarmed by the series of attacks on journalists, the TJA–a founding member of the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA)–along with The Press Council of Thailand, the Confederation of Thai Journalists, the Thai Broadcast Journalists' Association and the Association of Thai Cable Operators, issued a statement on December 1 calling on both the government and the PAD to stop violent acts against journalists and allow them to perform their duties unhampered.

"These acts are unacceptable since they obstruct the work of the media and threaten the people's right to access to information. We appeal to protestors of all sides to stop these acts once and for all," said the media groups in their statement.

The statement emphasized the need for media to stay in the middle in order to report facts as fairly as possible, "No matter how the current violence turns out, the media has a duty to report facts with balance so that the public is equipped with enough information to make its own decision."

"We, therefore, appeal to demonstrators to realize and understand the work of the media. Any group that attacks the media will not win public support," the statement added.

At the same time, the media groups advised their colleagues to exercise their journalistic duties with caution, reminding them of their duty to "adhere to their professional ethics and not allow themselves to be influenced by any particular group."

 


The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (http://clicks.aweber.com/y/ct/?l=ECtw3&m=1ZaBl9Z_wjKXin& b=s3.JSD7d62Gsme_TfDUI4A) is a coalition of press freedom advocacy groups from Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand. Established in November 1998, it is the  only regional network with the specific mandate of promoting and protecting press freedom throughout Southeast Asia. SEAPA is composed of the Alliance of Independent Journalists (Indonesia), the Jakarta-based Institute for the Study of the Free Flow of Information (ISAI), the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and

Responsibility, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and the Thai Journalists Association. SEAPA also has partners in Malaysia, Cambodia, East Timor, and exiled Burmese media, and undertakes projects and programs for press freedom throughout the region.
 
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