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Former "Bangkok Post" editor sees Thai government hand in his dismissal

(SEAPA/IFEX) - A senior editor who was sacked by the "Bangkok Post" newspaper over a flawed report about alleged cracks in the runway of Thailand's new international airport, said his dismissal was a result of the government's interference in the newspaper's editorial policy, an act he says can threaten the independence of the entire Thai press.

Sermsuk Kasitipradit, whose 22-year career with the newspaper ended with his dismissal on 29 August 2005, said he "believes his case is no longer a personal one, but represents a threat to all editorial staff at the 'Post' and, wider, to the press in Thailand generally".

"After reviewing the situation again and again, I find that this is not an ordinary situation. Our sacking is the result of influence from outside - from a major shareholder and the government," he was quoted by "The Nation" newspaper as saying in its 4 September issue.

"We are not being punished for the mistaken report. It is, in fact, a reaction to our editorial stance towards the military and security issues," Sermsuk said in the article.

Sermsuk was one of the editors responsible for the 9 August front-page story alleging there were severe cracks at touchdown points on the Suvarnabhumi airport runway. The article quoted an anonymous source as saying American experts brought in by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra recommended the reconstruction of the runway.

The paper issued a retraction and an apology after the report was found to be wrong. Despite the retraction, on 15 August the Airport of Thailand and the New Bangkok International Airport filed a criminal libel suit against the paper and its chief editor and threatened it with a civil libel suit.

Sermsuk and another "Post" editor, Chadin Tephaval, had been under pressure from the newspaper's management to quit after the government filed charges against the English-language daily. Chadin resigned on 24 August but Sermsuk stood his ground until he received a dismissal order.

Sermsuk said he regrets the erroneous story and acknowledges he deserved some kind of punishment, but being given what he called the "death penalty" was more regrettable.

"There is no other way we can explain the situation reasonably. Looking back on the past two years, it is even more obvious that there has been interference towards our editorial work. Many times we were told to tone down 'sensitive' issues," he told "The Nation".

"Some people in the government had asked our journalists . . . about me. When considering the circumstances, I believe my team and I were the target of the government at a certain level," he added.

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