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Violence against journalists escalates in Thailand

UPDATE from International Federation of Journalists: IFJ urges utmost caution for journalists covering Bangkok (15 January 2014)

On 23 December 2013, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) stated that it is deeply concerned over the escalation of violence against media workers covering anti-government demonstrations in Bangkok, with at least two physical assaults reported during the rallies on Sunday, 22 December.

"SEAPA reiterates its stand that under no circumstances are attacks against journalists justified nor should they be tolerated.

"Criticisms aimed at the media should never take the form of violence as journalists have a duty to report the news to the wider public as best as they can," said SEAPA executive director Gayathry Venkiteswaran.

On 22 December, three media workers, of whom two were women reporters, were subject to assaults by demonstrators who claimed that media reports about the 22 December rallies in Bangkok were biased.

A group of protesters threw water at Penphan Laemluang, a reporter of state-owned Channel 9, while one man pulled and hit her left arm in an attempt to bar her from leaving the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protest site near the Democracy Monument.

Penphan was reporting on the rallies on the station's outside broadcasting (OB) van at around 4pm. As she came down from the van, the protesters rushed to her after a man shouted accusing the station of being a slave to former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. The reporter had to apologize to the group and insist that she did not report about the crowd size.

The crew's assistant photographer was pushed to the ground by protesters and was almost beaten had others not intervened. Protesters also targeted their van as it left the scene. Penphan has since lodged a police report at the Dusit Police Station.

In a separate incident, Varunee Suesatsakulchai, a reporter from state-owned station Channel 3, was almost assaulted by protesters as she completed her field report around Ratchadamnoen Avenue. She was lucky to escape in time.

And in the latest incident on 23 December, a reporter from a free TV station, the Thai Public Broadcasting Service, was jeered at and almost lynched by a group of protesters as he was covering the first day of the registration of party-list candidates for the 2 February general elections at the Thai-Japanese Youth Center's sport complex in Din Daeng.

According to news reports, Voravit Chimmanee had to hide inside the car of another television channel. Protest leader Kosol Suksai claimed that the protesters thought Voravit was a party candidate, as the reporter dressed formally and did not wear the green press armband issued by the Thai Journalists Association (TJA).

Later dozens of TV crews and print journalists were briefly stranded inside the buildings of the sport complex, Dindaeng Police Station, and the Department of Special Investigation that were seized by the demonstrators.

The 22 December incidents prompted a meeting on 23 December between representatives of TJA, the Thai Broadcast Journalists Association, the Council of Professional Broadcasters of Thailand and the Press Council of Thailand with PDRC spokesperson Aekanat Promphan.

A TJA statement said the two sides agreed to take necessary measures to prevent such incidents. Each would identify a point person with the authority to take quick actions if similar incidents occurred. Protest organisers said they would designate an area within rally sites for the OB vans as a safety measure.

"It is obvious that the media is being targeted, and with impunity. We call for speedy and fair investigations into reports of attacks against the media and for the anti-government protesters to convey to all its supporters not to harass or attack media workers," Gayathry added.

Since the PDRC's rallies began two months ago, there have been sporadic incidents of harassment or obstruction of work of journalists by demonstrators or protest guards. Protesters also raided six free television stations twice to protest against their biased and underreported coverage of the protests.

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