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Journalist killed, TV station torched, reporters threatened as Thai government moves against Red Shirts

(SEAPA/IFEX) - 19 May 2010 - A decisive government push to dismantle a weeks-old protest in Bangkok has triggered more violence and heightened security risks throughout Thailand, with the media caught in the frontlines and crossfires of the ensuing chaos.

An Italian reporter on 19 May died from a gunshot wound.

Photojournalist Fabio Polenghi of the Italian news agency ANSA was shot in the chest, news reports said.

Four other media workers were reported injured as they covered the military operations on Wednesday.

A Canadian freelance reporter was injured by grenade shrapnel. Two other journalists were wounded earlier, one Dutch man and an American documentary filmmaker. An unidentified journalist along with several soldiers was reportedly injured after a grenade fired from an M79 grenade launcher detonated at the Thai-Belgian Bridge along Rama 4 Road.

Even as "Red Shirt" protest leaders surrendered to police in the afternoon, many groups of protesters started to riot, looting malls and supermarkets, setting fires to banks and cinemas in the rally site's vicinity. They also turned their ire on the media.

Rioters attacked Channel 3, a government TV station. News reports said protesters set fire to the station's building, and torched at least 10 news vehicles. The TV station suspended its operations by 4:30 p.m.

Meanwhile, both "The Bangkok Post" and "The Nation" newspapers - Thailand's leading English-language dailies - dismissed their staff by 3 p.m. fearing that the Red Shirt mobs would attack their respective compounds.

Throughout the two months that the anti-government protest ran in the capital, the media repeatedly found itself under attack from various sides of the crisis. The government repeatedly sought to control the flow of information by blocking hundreds of websites and closing down satellite TV channels that broadcast what the government claims was Red Shirt propaganda that tended to incite violence. At the same time, media workers have been harassed and assaulted by protesters that have accused them of biased coverage.

Prior to yesterday's casualties, a journalist with Reuters news agency was among those who perished in the skirmishes and violence of the past two months.

SEAPA is concerned that media groups and individuals remain vulnerable, especially as tension rises and spreads in Thailand.

Following the government's move to permanently dismantle the rally site in Bangkok, there are fears that protests will spread to outlying provinces, and along with them, a general hazard - and even hostility - towards the covering media.

The situation is certainly not helped by reports that some radio stations sympathetic to the Red Shirts have been engaged in incendiary commentary. SEAPA urges restraint and responsibility, even as it also reminds government to resist any temptation to restrict the flow of news and opinions in the country.

SEAPA reiterates its call on all sides of the crisis to respect the important role journalists play in disseminating news and commentary, and in providing reliable information that all stakeholders need to arrive at some peaceful resolution.

At the same time, SEAPA reiterates the call made by the Thai Journalists Association on all members of the media to practice ethical and responsible journalism, to not take sides, and instead to simply provide as much reliable information and commentary as they can to help Thai society understand and navigate their current crisis.

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION


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