Thai Journalists Protest Editors’ Firings

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(AP) Nearly 100 journalists of Thailand’s oldest English-language newspaper wore black and demonstrated Monday in support of editors who they say were fired under pressure from the Thai government.

The ousted editors said the Bangkok Post was in a “dark era” and faced the worst censorship in decades.

“I have never encountered the pressure and interference from the newspaper’s owners and the government as we are now facing in my entire 22 years as a journalist at the Bangkok Post,” said Sermsuk Kasitipradit, a military beat editor who was fired along with news editor Chadin Thepawal.

“There have been orders and directions from the government through the newspaper’s board as to how news should be presented,” he said.

The two editors were held responsible for publishing a false story earlier this month about cracks on the runway on Bangkok’s new Suvarnabhumi international airport, which is under construction and scheduled to open next year.

David Armstrong, the acting editor of the Bangkok Post, said “the number of errors and misjudgments in the lead-up to the publication of the story was so great that firm action was both justified and necessary.”

“A responsible newspaper cannot tolerate lapses in standards of this magnitude,” he said in a statement.

Nearly 100 reporters and editors skipped work to demonstrate outside the newspaper’s building.

Sermsuk admitted the mistake but said the dismissal was “unjustified.” He said he plans to fight the case in Thailand’s labor court.

He said he got the news of the runway cracks from a longtime source close to the government who “tricked” him in order to “sabotage” the Bangkok Post. The government said the cracks were on the shoulders of the runway and could be repaired.

The two airport authorities — of which the government is the majority shareholder — filed a lawsuit against the Bangkok Post and its editor even though the paper retracted the story the next day.

The maximum penalty for libel is two years’ imprisonment and a $4,900 fine.

The airport authorities plan to file a separate charge at the civil court to ask for hefty compensation for tarnishing the airport’s image.

Thai journalists have complained repeatedly of government interference on press freedom in the past five years under Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

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