Media under fire as political conflict intensifies

New York, December 1, 2008–As Thailand’s political crisis deepens, the Committee to Protect Journalists urgently calls on both sides of the conflict to end their attacks on reporters and media outlets and allow all journalists to report freely on breaking news. 

Law and order have broken down since anti-government protesters, led by the People’s Alliance for Democracy (PAD), laid siege to the country’s main international and domestic airports in Bangkok beginning on November 25. The protest group has said it will not leave the facilities until Prime Minister Somchai Wongsawat’s coalition government steps down. 

As the protests have deepened, violence has erupted on the streets of the capital, Bangkok, and reporters and media outlets have been targeted by both the PAD and the pro-government United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (UDD).

“We call on both the PAD and the government to protect rather than harass news reporters,” said Bob Dietz, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator. “Reporters should be allowed to do their jobs without fear of reprisal. Since both sides claim to support democratic ideals, they must honor their responsibility to let media play their role in this important time in Thailand’s history.”

CPJ strongly condemns the press freedom violations that have occurred over the past week:

▪ On November 24, the Bangkok offices of the anti-government satellite television station, ASTV, was targeted by two grenades, according to local reports. The station was attacked again on November 28. No group took responsibility for either attack, which did not result in any injuries or serious damage. ASTV, owned by PAD leader Sondhi Limthongkul, has broadcast live, 24-hours-per day, the protest group’s ongoing rallies.

On November 25, pro-government protesters associated with the UDD surrounded the Chiang Mai-based offices of ASTV sympathizer and local Vihok radio station operator Therdsak Jiemkitwattana. The group dragged his father, Setha Jiemkitwattana, from his car when he approached the besieged station. He was beaten and shot dead. Therdsak told local media that the protesters obstructed an ambulance sent to treat his wounded father.

▪ On November 26, PAD protesters fired shots and threw grenades at the pro-government Taxi Radio 92.75 station run by local taxi operators. The attack resulted in the injury of at least two people, though it was unclear whether they were reporters for the station. Bangkok’s taxi drivers are a strong constituency for exiled former premier Thaksin Shinawatra, who the PAD strongly opposes.

▪ On November 28, a photographer with the leading Thai-language newspaper, Thai Rath, was attacked by PAD supporters while photographing them assaulting a man at Don Mueang domestic airport, according to the Bangkok Post. The local photographer, who requested anonymity, said he was struck from behind and assaulted by a group of PAD-supporting guards who accused him of being an imposter and took his camera.

▪ On November 30, cable operator Truevisions’ television news station’s vehicle came under fire from guards apparently sympathetic to PAD at Don Muang airport, according to local media reports. TV technician Phanumart Paihork said he heard gunshots when passing through PAD checkpoints and later discovered bullet holes in his truck. PAD co-leader Amorn Amornratananont apologized for the attack, which he said was a misunderstanding. Nobody was hurt in the attack.

▪ On November 30, PAD spokeswoman Anchalee Paireerak threatened to use demonstrators to surround the offices of television Channel 3 in retaliation for a perceived bias against the group’s protests in its news reporting, according to a Matichon newspaper report. She said she took issue in particular with the Reung Low Chow Nee news program hosted by popular broadcaster Sorayuth Suthasanajinda and threatened to curb the station’s reporters’ future access to PAD-controlled protest sites.