CPJ condemns criminal defamation charges

New York, August 16, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the criminal defamation charges filed by two state-owned firms against the editor of the English-language daily Bangkok Post, Kowit Sanandang, and the newspaper’s parent company, Post Publishing Plc. The charges, announced today, carry penalties of up to two years in prison and a fine of 200,000 baht (US $4,900), according to news reports.

Government-owned Airports of Thailand (AoT) and New Bangkok International Airport (NBIA) filed the lawsuit Monday in response to an August 9 front-page story in the Bangkok Post. The companies allege that the story harmed the international image of the new Suvarnabhumi Airport in Bangkok, Somsak Toraksa, the plaintiff’s lawyer, told reporters.

The Bangkok Post, citing unnamed sources, reported that U.S. aviation experts hired by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra had recommended reconstruction to repair large cracks in an airport runway. The newspaper retracted the report and ran a front-page apology the next day.

The Post‘s retraction stated that while there were small cracks on the shoulders of the runway, its source wrongly claimed that experts believed the runway needed reconstruction.

On Wednesday, Thaksin lashed out at the newspaper, calling the report “seriously damaging to the country.”

The state-owned firms asked the court to order the defendants to pay to publicize the verdict in major international dailies, and to advertise the results of the case on local and international television channels for 15 consecutive days. A Bangkok court is scheduled to hear the case beginning September 19.

The Bangkok Post reported yesterday that NBIA is also preparing a civil lawsuit against the newspaper, seeking one billion baht (US $24,400) in damages.

“Using criminal charges to retaliate against the press is deeply disturbing and wholly inappropriate—particularly when it is done by state-owned companies. This case reflects the alarming recent trend in Thailand toward the use of disproportionate legal action against journalists,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Prime Minister Thaksin is concerned about his nation’s image, but it is Thailand that is damaging its own international reputation by criminally prosecuting journalists.”

Thai corporations have increasingly used legal action against media critical of their business activities.

Thai communications giant Shin Corp, founded by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, filed criminal and civil libel suits last year against a media activist and the editors of the Thai Post newspaper. Last month, a cooking gas company with ties to a former government official filed a criminal case against two newspapers owned by Matichon media company.