Thai newspaper menaced by pro-government protestors

Bangkok, March 31, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the harassment and intimidation by pro-government protestors of the Thai-language daily newspaper Kom Chad Luek. As many as 3,000 pro-government protestors staged demonstrations beginning Tuesday in front of the newspaper’s offices, demanding that the newspaper’s editors apologize for an article that made what they considered to be an inappropriate reference to the country’s monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

Reporters had scuffled with protestors in front of the newspaper offices, and more than 200 police were eventually summoned to maintain order. The paper’s senior executives agreed to apologize for the story and fire the editors responsible, but the protestors dispersed only after Kom Chad Luek agreed on Thursday to suspend publication for five days.

The newspaper acknowledged that it failed to print in full a reference made in a speech by Sondhi Limthongkul, leader of the movement to oust Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, leaving the remark in a form suggesting that the king should resign, according to news reports.

“We condemn the harassment and intimidation of our colleagues at Kom Chad Luek, one of Thailand’s more vibrant and critical newspapers,” Ann Cooper, CPJ’s executive director, said from New York. “We call on the Thai government to guarantee the safety of journalists.”

Kom Chad Luek has come under legal pressure from the Thai government in the past. More than 20 criminal defamation suits have been filed by government agencies, officials, and their related business interests since Thaksin came to power in 2001, the newspaper’s executive editor Korkhet Chathalertlak recently told CPJ.

The daily also came under heavy government pressure not to publish a news story about the prime minister’s son, Panthongtae Shinwatra, who in 2003 was accused of cheating on a university exam. Kom Chad Luek was the only Thai newspaper to feature the story on its front page, and then-chief editor Thepchai Yong was later forced to resign due to government pressure, Thepchai told CPJ.

Kom Chad Luek is owned by the Nation Multimedia Group, one of Thailand’s most critical diversified news groups. In 2002, after it had reported many critical news stories, the government ordered a probe into the financial accounts of some senior Nation Group editors, including chief editor and company founder Suthichai Yoon and senior editor Thepchai Yong. A court later ruled the government investigation to be unlawful.

Family members of ruling Thai Rak Thai party Secretary General Suriya Jungrungreangkit have recently purchased a 22 percent stake in the Nation Group, prompting concerns among the news group’s journalists that the politically connected family might bid to take majority control and change the media group’s management.