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Years of research continue for Chutima Sidasathian with a 2009 interview

Prize-Winning News Agency Behaves 'Like a US Marine Walking Past a Mugging'

Monday, August 31, 2015
BANGKOK: Reuters won a Pulitzer, the world's top journalistic award, for its coverage of Rohingya boat people from Myanmar with the help of Thai journalist Chutima Sidasathian.

The international news agency hired Ms Chutima to open her contact book and arrange interviews for Reuters journalists doing the research that won the 2014 award.

For years Ms Chutima and Australian journalist Alan Morison had led coverage in Asia of the plight of Rohingya in their small on-line news site called Phuketwan that they produced on the Thai resort island of Phuket.

But Reuters has played down Ms Chutima's role in the award-winning series since she and Mr Morison were sued by the Royal Thai Navy for reproducing one paragraph from the Reuters series.

The company that employs 60,000 people world-wide has also distanced itself from the court proceedings that could see Ms Chutima and Mr Morison jailed for up to seven years when a court delivers its verdict in the case on Tuesday.

Reuters did not send a reporter or company representative to the three-day trial in July even though its paragraph was at the centre of the case.

Mr Morison, 67, a former senior editor on The Age, said Reuters has "let the little guys take the rap."

The verdict to be delivered in a Phuket court has ramifications for media freedom and focuses attention on the role of so-called "fixers" and interpreters hired by foreign correspondents, often in conflict and disaster zones.

They are usually local journalists who often receive no credit and little payment for their often dangerous and stressful work and are often left to deal with the ramifications of contentious reporting after correspondents that hired them have flown home.

Mr Morison said by "ignoring our case Reuters has acted like a US marine walking past a mugging."

"Chutima's intimate knowledge of the Rohingya story saved the Reuters journalists years of work," he said.

A Reuters spokesman acknowledged the role that local journalists like Ms Chutima play "in assisting international news organisations like ourselves in accessing information" but claimed her role was limited in preparation of the series.

"As part of writing out story, we asked Chutima to assist in arranging appointments for our journalists as part of our news gathering," the Reuters spokesman said.

"She did not act as a Reuters journalist or stringer and her contribution to the story was limited to arranging these appointments," he said.

The spokesman said Reuters stands by the "fairness and accuracy of our Rohingya coverage, support the principles of a free press everywhere in the world - and the rights of journalists to go about their jobs without fear or hindrance in reporting the truth."

A Royal Thai Navy captain initially filed a criminal complaint against Reuters and two of its journalists over its Rohingya coverage.

But the Navy has not pursued the case against Reuters as Ms Chutima and Mr Morison were left to defend the Reuters paragraph that quoted a people smuggler saying "Thai naval forces" usually earn money for spotting Rohingya boats or turning a blind eye to them.

A key defence argued by Ms Chutima and Mr Morison is that the indictment was erroneously translated from "Thai naval forces" to "Royal Thai Navy.''

They argued there are multiple naval forces in Thailand.

Mr Morison said he doubts he would survive in Thailand's chronically overcrowded jails if he is convicted but decided to stay in Thailand to fight the case with Ms Chutima in the interests of press freedom.

"We remain extremely concerned about the outcome but hopeful that we'll be found not guilty," Mr Morison said.

"Anything less than a not guilty verdict would be bad for freedom of the media both in Thailand and internationally," he said.

Original Fairfax Report

WATCH the Dateline documentary
The Dateline documentary team from SBS Australia shared the three-day trial of Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian with participants for a show full of revealing insights.

Reuters' Response

DATELINE put the following questions to Reuters regarding this story:

1. Is it correct that Reuters has not offered support to Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian? If not, why not?

2. Is it correct that Sidasathian assisted Reuters in the investigation for which Reuters was subsequently awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2014?

3. Has Reuters made any public statement defending the Reuters original report and condemning the fact that journalists are being persecuted for reprinting an extract from that report?

4. Are you aware of any complaint made by the Royal Thai Navy about Reuters's original publication of the article?

David Crundwell, Senior Vice-President of Corporate Affairs at Thomson Reuters, responded with this statement:

''Reuters wholeheartedly supports a free press and the imperative of journalists across the world to publish independent and reliable news, however the case against Phuketwan arose out of aspects of our story being excerpted by Phuketwan from our original and comprehensive story.

As part of writing our story, we asked Chutima to assist in arranging appointments for our journalists as part of our news gathering. She did not act as a Reuters journalist or stringer, and her contribution to the story was limited to arranging these appointments. We appreciate the role that local journalists like Chutima often play in assisting international news organizations like ourselves in accessing information.

Reuters strongly objects to the use of criminal laws anywhere in the world to attempt to punish journalists for the important and valuable work that they do.

On the charges against Reuters, we are aware that a captain in the Royal Thai Navy filed a criminal complaint against Reuters and two Reuters journalists, Stuart Grudgings and Jason Szep, arising out of the Rohingya coverage, and that the complaint alleges violations of the Computer Crimes Act. Based on our understanding, the complaint is under review by the authorities, but we have not been charged. We hope that the Captain and the Navy will reconsider the lawsuit against Reuters in light of the Thai officials' subsequent acknowledgement of the seriousness of the problem, their efforts to combat trafficking, and Reuters' contribution to the authorities having released 900 trafficking refugees from trafficking camps in Thailand.

We stand by the fairness and accuracy of our Rohingya coverage, support the principles of a free press everywhere in the world - and the rights of journalists to go about their jobs without fear or hindrance in reporting the truth.''

WATCH Journey into Hell, by Four Corners
From Burma through Thailand, an award-winning current affairs team traces official complicity in the brutal treatment of the Rohingya and Phuketwan's part in its exposure.

WATCH How Trafficking Works
Phuketwan Investigative reporter Chutima Sidasathian says of traficking in 2014: ''It's worse and worse, day by day. Nobody cares''.

LISTEN The Rohingya Solution
A tragedy almost beyond words has been unfolding in Thailand, where a human smuggling network is thriving with the full knowledge of some corrupt law enforcement officers. Alan Morison of Phuketwan talks to Australia's AM program.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Very clever line: "Reuters has acted like a US marine walking past a mugging"

I think that line will resonate for quite a while. The witty comments we make in life echo in eternity.("Gladiator" - Russell Crowe)

Ian Yarwood
Barrister & Solicitor
Perth, Australia

Posted by Ian Yarwood on August 31, 2015 11:59


Good to see you have now diversified into the coffee business

Posted by MoW on August 31, 2015 12:32


Why such a miss leading headline??
US Marines have nothing too do with your case What is your point with this comment?

Posted by Jimmy Rawai on August 31, 2015 14:40

Editor Comment:

Ask around, Jimmy, it will quickly be explained to you.


David Crundwell, Senior Vice-President of Corporate Affairs at Thomson Reuters, why don't you answer the straight question: Have you or have you not ''offered support to Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian?''

You are supposed to be a journalist not a politician. Just give a straight answer, YES or NO.

Posted by OJ on August 31, 2015 14:54

Editor Comment:

We've been waiting a long time, OJ.


As good a journalist you are Alan, your abrasive and condescending attitude will not be winning you many friends.

Do I think you are right ? Yes

Do I think Reuters could do more ? Yes

Do I understand why Reuters wishes to distance themselves from you and PW ?


I fully support your fight for justice and hope you and Chutima will prevail but at the same time the fact that you concede to no fault of your own whatsoever is counter-productive.

Much like your verbal assault on the US Embassy for denying Chutima her visa, your lashing out at Reuters and at the same expecting them to support you is, to be kind, somewhat illogical and unrealistic.

It's not just about who is right. It's also about how you conduct yourself.

Posted by Herbert on August 31, 2015 15:10

Editor Comment:

We've done nothing wrong, Herbert.

I make plenty of mistakes and introducing comments at the end of articles to Phuket was probably the biggest.

We've never ''verbally assaulted'' the US embassy but we did report what happened once when Khun Chutima was denied a visa.

Confusing Reuters with the US Government is another of your blunders.


Good luck for tomorrow folks. Let's hope sense prevails.

Ian, I'll have a skinny latte and some advice about defamation law please ... ; )

Posted by James on August 31, 2015 16:33


At this stage, it is worth to hope for better, but prepare for worse.

The best possible outcome in this situation would be that court verdict deliver that Ed and Khun Chutima are innocent, and prosecution and injured party doesn't file appeal.

The worst possible outcome would be both are found guilty,given prison terms and are incarcerated on spot.

However, such outcome is unlikely - even for murdder cases Thai courts rarely jails suspects until final ruling is in force.

Whatever is verdict, it would be very useful if that would be translated and published here in full -to see court's argumentation , its strength and arguments of prosecution and defense through the eyes of judges.

Let's hope for the best possible outcome tomorrow!
Would it appear not the one, then defence line should be continued, and, I'm sure, it will be successful in the end..

Posted by Sue on August 31, 2015 17:14


Hope the result is good for you tomorrow.

Posted by MoW on August 31, 2015 18:10


Good luck to you both.
Hope you will be found NOT GUILTY for doing your job.
Everyone should also "Share" this above article so that many more people understand what kind of business Reuters is

Posted by Phuket119 on August 31, 2015 18:52


Yes you have Alan.

You have zero respect for those who disagree with you. You created this forum for people to voice their opinion, yet you dismiss everything on the basis of anonymity if nothing else bites.

Nobody likes a know-it-all.

You can't let a single comment pass you without a snide remark. Just like my last one.

What on earth did I write in my response that even remotely implied the US government is the same as Reuters ?

You just ran out of rational arguments but true to your nature, you had to come up with something condescending.

A great reporter you may be but as a human being you fail miserably.

It would do you good to learn some humility. You say you make plenty of mistakes, yet you don't have the backbone to admit to it.

In my books that makes you a spineless coward.

Yes, I don't expect ever to be published on PW again but it had to be said. Not that you give a damn.

Posted by Herbert on August 31, 2015 22:54

Editor Comment:

No, I have the utmost respect for those who can explain their position with logic and poise. The know-alls who have no logic or poise are the problem. I am a long way from being a know-all, which is why I would never rush in on the basis of guesswork, Herbert. Facts are my preference.

Wednesday October 27, 2021
Horizon Karon Beach Resort & Spa


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