Protesters seize Thai state television station

New York, August 26, 2008—The Committee to Protect Journalists strongly condemns an attack led by anti-government protesters against state-run National Broadcasting Service of Thailand (NBT) television news station.

The People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD) protest group ambushed and seized control of the station’s headquarters in Bangkok early this morning as part of several ambush-style attacks on government buildings across the Thai capital. Protesters forced their way through police blockades to enter the station, according to international news reports.   

According to an official at the prime minister’s office, protesters temporarily took NBT news staff hostage and cut the station’s electricity, which suspended regular news programming. The Associated Press reported that station resumed broadcasting after about an hour, but protesters later took over the station for a second time. NBT then resumed broadcasting from another location, according to AP, and the protesters left the building in the evening.

A television reporter from Channel 3 was also assaulted by anti-government protesters while covering the news. He escaped without serious injury in a taxi, according to news reports.    

“While we recognize Thai citizens’ legal right to protest peacefully, the siege of NBT represents a clear and present danger to press freedom,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “We call on authorities to protect the media during this difficult time of escalating political conflict and to keep streets secure so that journalists can do their work.”       

Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej said at a press conference this afternoon that some of the protesters involved in the siege on NBT were armed. The PAD is led by Sondhi Limthongkul, owner and founder of the Manager Media Group and the privately run ASTV satellite television station.

The PAD guided the protest movement that led to the military ouster of former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September 2006. The group has staged new rallies against Samak’s government since May 25, leveling a variety of accusations against his administration, including charges that he is acting as a political proxy for the exiled former premier.

The PAD’s protests have been covered live and without interruption on ASTV, but the group’s leaders have also complained that they have received limited and biased coverage from the state-controlled television media. All of Thailand’s main six stations are owned and controlled by the government.