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Reuters celebrates, Phuket pair locked up over a Pulitzer paragraph

Phuket Pair Deserve Support: Bangkok Post

Sunday, April 20, 2014
Countdown to World Media Freedom Day: Day 17


Navy must end its attack on reporters

THE CONTRAST could hardly have been starker: On Monday, a major news agency won the Pulitzer Prize for their work exposing Thailand's involvement in the trafficking of Myanmar's oppressed Rohingya minority through what it called a ''tropical gulag''.

On Thursday, two journalists running a small, independent website in Phuket were formally indicted for criminally defaming the Royal Thai Navy by quoting part of the award-winning report.

In the Reuters office, they sipped champagne and celebrated. But Phuketwan editor Alan Morison and journalist Chutima Sidasathian, who had played a substantial role in the Reuters investigation, had to worry about the threat of seven years in jail and whether they would be granted bail.

The reaction was as swift as it was targeted, with media advocates lining up to condemn the navy for pursuing the pair through the courts.

In the months since legal action was first mooted, Morison and Chutima have won support from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Reporters Without Borders and any number of NGOs and media outlets.

The Foreign Correspondents' Club of Thailand used its congratulations for Reuters to highlight the plight of the Phuketwan journalists.

''The professional membership of the FCCT shares the view that such a prosecution serves only to stifle media freedom on an issue of profound importance to the rights of a persecuted people,'' the club said in a statement.

The case also comes at a precarious time for media freedom not only in Thailand but more broadly across the region.

In Myanmar (Burma), Democratic Voice of Burma journalist Zaw Pe has been imprisoned for a year on charges of trespassing and ''disturbing a civil servant on duty''. The case, which prompted several outlets to run black front pages in protest, is but one of many examples in a country where journalists can be jailed for doing their jobs.

In Cambodia, a controversial cyber crimes bill has been proposed that critics say strikes at the heart of freedom of expression.

Its vague provisions, including prohibiting content ''damaging to the moral and cultural values of society'' are open to broad interpretation and could be open to abuse.

Free speech advocates claim other sections have been deliberately drafted to undermine political cartoonists who criticise Prime Minister Hun Sen and his party.

In the Phuketwan case, it is hard to escape the conclusion that those pursuing it are looking increasingly misguided and vindictive, especially in the face of international recognition for the Reuters report.

The navy has been its own worst enemy in this case. Attempting to silence media outlets with defamation lawsuits will never win any public relations battles - the old saying about never arguing with someone who buys ink by the barrel holds true in the modern era of digital media when megabytes come cheaper.

Morison and Chutima have more than Phuketwan at their disposal to fight back with, they have supporters across the industry.

The navy and prosecutors have also been criticised for picking a small target without pursuing larger organisations that published the report, or Reuters itself.

The use of the Computer Crimes Act, controversial in itself, has also heightened concerns the case is more about shutting down debate than correcting any errors.

There has been little explanation as to why that law has been invoked in this case, save for the fact the article was published via an online media outlet.

While those making the defamation accusations have been accused of overkill, and Morison and Chutima have a difficult fight on their hands, sadly the lawsuit has been effective in at least one way.

Discussion about the plight of the Rohingya as they pass through southern Thailand, and any role Thai authorities have in the process, has fallen by the wayside.

The navy should stop its prosecution of Morison and Chutima. Instead, it should turn its attention to dealing with the issues at the heart of the story they have been following for seven years: The smuggling and trafficking of a disadvantaged minority group.

It should spend more time protecting those people than its own reputation, and work to destroy the smuggling rings and stopping any Thai officials who are profiting from the exploitation of the vulnerable.

If the story is untrue, there are better ways to refute it. If it is accurate and the truth hurts: Change it.

Morison and Chutima deserve all the attention and support they can muster as they are willing to risk imprisonment for the sake of free speech. The Rohingya also needed attention and support as they seek freedom.

Bangkok Post

Phuketwan is marking the 30-day countdown to the 30th anniversary of the World Media Freedom Day on May 3 with news outlets around the world.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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it is sad to say but selfish greed is more important than another humans life and safety...the current govt does not have the surplus funds, to waste, on pursuing such ridiculous charges ...ed imo ..stick to the issues that relate directly to you , dont involve what goes on with other prisoners in jail ...win this fight first !!

Posted by chris on April 20, 2014 09:17

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I did e-mail Reuters as Treelover suggested in another of your reports, and also another contact, but as it is Easter holiday period in UK I just received automated replies that they are both on leave till 22nd April. I'll let you know if I get any opinion from them.

Posted by Pete on April 20, 2014 09:44

Editor Comment:

That's odd. Most news organisations cover the news around the clock. News doesn't take holidays.

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Thailand along with many other Asian countries have always tried to suppress freedom of expression. I very much doubt this campaign will achieve anything that will sway this government otherwise to throw out the case. Thailand has a long way to go, after all, it is very much a third-world country. It is clearly not ready to embrace values that one would expect, nor does it have the appetite to listen particularly to foreigners who hardly bear any rights at all in a country which is extremely xenophobic . But then you know this already, and it is hardly a surprise that they have acted in this manner is it ?

Posted by reader on April 20, 2014 12:03

Editor Comment:

Reader, the phrase ''third world country'' rightly disappeared, along with the second world, decades ago. Today there are developed countries and developing countries. You knowledge and appreciation of Thailand also seems to be a couple of decades out of date. This case involves the unjust prosecution of a Thai and an expat, so your misguided comments about 'xenophobia' have no relevance. I suggest you - along with the Royal Thai Navy - catch up. The 21st century is here. Add some value, please.

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Well this lot don't act as you think, for them news takes a holiday.

barb.burg@thomsonreuters.com

I am currently out of the office on leave. For further assistance please contact:
Heather Carpenter for PR Inquiries: heather.carpenter@thomsonreuters.com

Heather.Carpenter@thomsonreuters.com

I will be out of the office until Monday, 4/22.

Posted by Pete on April 20, 2014 12:29

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Alan, whilst you have stated the situation is not the same between Jews and Israel I take your mind back to around 20 years from the 1920's to the 1940's when not only were Jews being killed in the largest atrocity of all time but the lucky few who made it to then Palestine were imprisoned by the British. It was only when the Jews bombed the British out (at the time they ruled most the world) and after the creation of the State Of Israel every Jew, even from the poorest of countries like Ethiopia (which the Israeli government paid for flights etc to Israel) have the right of citizenship in Israel. If a Muslim country (Malaysia and Indonesia are the obvious choice both rich and large countries unlike Israel) gave the Rohingya citizenship this would go a long way to solving the crisis. The fact that you have not printed this on my numerous attempts shows you are anti-Semitic. The irony is that it might help the people you clearly care so much about. Freedom of speech on Phuketwan then why don't you print my article.

Posted by Fiesty Farang on April 20, 2014 12:39

Editor Comment:

The fact that I have not printed your comments does not show I am anti-Semitic. It shows your obsession with pigeonholing people according to their faith. A real solution would be not to cave in to the genocide now being carried out in Burma but to insist that this new democracy actually behave like one and become tolerant. Give in to tyrants if you must, FF. We don't like the idea.

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It certainly appears that the decision makers at the corporate news organization in question do take holidays, like most large business enterprises. Once they get back to the office I suspect that it will take them some time to delegate tasks and catch up on the issues, and of course the first quarter financial data needs to be collated and disseminated to the business community.

They might also be burdened with the task of getting their Pulitzer win news out to both existing and potential shareholders.

Posted by Treelover on April 20, 2014 12:45

Editor Comment:

There's quite some distance in ethics and morals between the fine journalism and protecting and manipulating the global corporate brand.

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Alan, I agree with you in regards to trying to solve the Myanmar situation and not giving into tyrants. However how many more lives will be lost if or until this happens. Fortunately as we see in most of Thailand (except the very south of Thailand) Buddhists and Muslims live in peace as indeed here in Phuket. A different approach to spare life would be if one of the wealthy phycially large Muslim countries in the region gave citizenship to the Rohingya as they are Muslim it is not Thailand's problem to take them which is a Buddhist country.

Posted by Fiesty Farang on April 20, 2014 13:55

Editor Comment:

No chance of that, FF, and it would not solve the real issue: racism in Burma. Better to find answers to the real issue rather than make unworkable suggestions. Thailand, as you note in one sentence then reject in another, tolerates Buddhists and Muslims in large numbers, except in the South.

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controversial cleric U Wirathu gives passionate sermons from his Mandalay base calling on Buddhists to stand up against the "Muslim threat"

Google this guy - he preaches hatred which I am astounded coming from a Buddhist monk; though he is recently been reported as being more reconciliatory.

Posted by Logic on April 21, 2014 03:56

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It is more than true that the honorable Phuketwan journalists deserve honor nationally and internationally regarding their continue highlighting of world most persecuted Rohingya boat people. They are humanitarian journalists without fear of their lives .

Posted by Maung Kyaw Nu,Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand ,BRAT. on April 27, 2014 15:33


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