Independent Media Voices Under Threat in Thailand

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the global organisation representing more than 500,000 journalists in over 110 countries, is deeply concerned GMM Grammy Group's newspaper take-over bid will mean there are fewer independent voices in Thai media.

On Monday September 12, a subsidiary of GMM Grammy Group announced its intention to purchase major stakes in two publishers responsible for at least five daily newspapers in Thailand. Head of GMM Grammy, Paiboon Damrong Chaitham, is known to be close with Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

"We must always be wary when the number of media owners shrinks, particularly when the potential new owners have close political connections," said IFJ President Christopher Warren.

"The ownership system in Thailand is moving to a situation where there may be a multitude of newspapers, but they are all owned by a small group of shareholders, resulting in fewer voices," said Warren.

Thitima Rungkhwansiriroj, acting deputy managing director of GMM Media Plc, announced that the company's board had approved take-over bids for both Post Publishing and Mattichon. Post Publishing prints the Thai language daily Post Today and English language daily the Bangkok Post.

The news comes after a tumultuous month at the Bangkok Post caused by an article it printed on August 9. It reported that the runway at Bangkok's new international airport was faulty, quoting an anonymous source saying that US aviation experts, invited by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra to view the airport, had found severe cracks in the runway.

On August 15, the Airport of Thailand (AoT) and the New Bangkok International Airport Co. (NBIA) filed a criminal lawsuit against Post Publishing Plc and its editor, Kowit Sanandang, demanding the Post publicise widespread international corrections. AoT and NBIA has demanded the Bangkok Post pay for full-page ads in countries including the USA, the UK and Italy, and one hour clarifications in networks like CNBC, CCTV and BBC, every day for 15 days. The plaintiffs are also considering a 1 billion BHT (US$25 million) civil suit.

The lawsuit was brought despite the Bangkok Post printing a retraction and prominent apology on August 10, the day after the article was published.

The two editors responsible for the report were pressured by management to resign. Editor, Chadin Tephaval voluntarily resigned on August 24 and desk-editor, Sermsuk Kasitipradit, was fired on August 29 after refusing to resign.

On August 29, more than 200 Post editorial staff dressed in black to mourn the departure of the two editors and called for acting editor-in chief, David Armstrong, to take partial responsibility for the article. Editorial staff submitted a mass petition to the board of directors, outlining the need for review of Armstrong's performance and his role in the August 9 article. The petition also called on the directors to set a clear editorial management policy and install a new editor.

Many Bangkok Post reporters believe the editors lost their jobs as a result of external pressure and political interference. Allegations have arisen that the decision to dismiss Kasitipradit was in fact in connection to his editorial stance taken on military and security issues. In a further show of support, all section heads offered to have their partial salary and bonus cut in exchange for leniency for Chadin and Sermsuk. Almost 50 Bangkok Post editorial staff signed an appeal calling on the panel to be lenient towards the two editors.

The IFJ, the global journalists' organisation representing 500,000 journalists worldwide, supports former Bangkok Post editor, Sermsuk Kasitipradit, in his fight to regain his job through the Thai labour courts.

For more information please contact Lara Hook in Thailand on +66 67360969
or IFJ President Christopher Warren on +61 411 656 668

The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 110 countries worldwide