(25 November) Anti-government protests appear to be increasingly hostile toward members of the media seen as pro-government by the protesters.
Tens of thousands of protesters led by various former Democrat MPs have been staging massive rallies and coordinating demonstrations in Bangkok in the bid to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra.
The protesters had been rallying a largely peaceful manner at Ratchadamnoen Avenue, but in the past 24 hours the mood has quickly shifted, as the protesters launched an aggressive campaign aimed at causing disruption to the government. The protesters are now occupying several governmental buildings, including the Ministry of Finance.
It is under this atmosphere that journalists are more and more threatened by the protesters. Yesterday a group of anti-government protesters surrounded a broadcasting vehicle operated by Channel 3 near Ratchadamnoen Avenue, accusing the channel of reporting about the protests in a negative way.
The protesters also demanded that all reporters working for Channel 3 leave the protest site, while on stage Mr. Suthep told the cheering crowd that the protesters should pay visits to media agencies which do not give adequately positive coverage of the protests in Mr. Suthep′s opinion.
State-owned Channel 3, Channel 7, and Channel 9 television stations were targeted by hundreds of the anti-government protesters today, who rallied just in front of the buildings and blowing the whistles – their adopted gesture against the government – to express their anger toward the news stations.
Popular news show host of Channel 3, Mr. Sorayuth Suttassanachinda, was singled out by many protesters who view him as a mouthpiece of the government.
At the headquarters of Channel 3, Mr. Sorayuth, who became a familiar face to many Thais by hosting a daily news talk show, later emerged to talk to the protesters and assured them that he had reported the news without any intention to belittle the protest movements.
In a tense confrontation, hundreds of protesters ignored his explanation and shouted in unison to Mr. Sorayuth demanding that he apologise for his perceived bias. Mr. Sorayuth responded by blowing a whistle alongside the protesters and said he had no hatred toward them. The famous TV personality then returned to the building without any violence.
However, a violent episode broke out near the Bangkok Metropolitan Police headquarters, where thousands of protesters were facing off with lines of riot police. There, Mr. Nick Nostitz, a German freelance photojournalist, was assaulted and punched by a group of anti-government protesters who were responding to a remark made by a protest leader on a nearby stage that Mr. Nostitz is a pro-government journalist.
Some volunteer guards of the protest were seen trying to defend Mr. Nostitz, while others tried to charge at him, before a group of police officers intervened and rescued him from the crowd.
Speaking to our correspondent later, Mr. Nostitz said he was arguing with the protest guards when he was spotted by former Democrat MP Chumpon Junsai, who pointed his finger to Mr. Nostitz, accused him of being a "Redshirt reporter", and urged the crowd to evict him from the protest site. The photojournalist was promptly assaulted by the crowd.
"None of this would have happened without Chumpon′s instruction," said Mr. Nostitz, adding that he aims to press charges against the protest leader.
Facebook pages of anti-government network later published photos of the incident and continued to identify him as a Redshirt reporter. Asked if he would return to taking photos of the protest afterwards, Mr. Nostitz said it would have been impossible for him to do so under this atmosphere.
Mr. Nostitz is a longtime photojournalist who has been reporting about various protests and crackdowns in Thailand since the 2006 military coup. He has published several photo books on the conflicts between Redshirts and Yellowshirts.
Responding to the incident, the Foreign Correspondent Club of Thailand (FCCT) released a statement deploring the assault on Mr. Nostitz "in strongest possible terms". It also called on the protest leaders to respect the rights of journalists to cover the protests in safe manner.
Meanwhile, the Thai Journalist Association similarly said in statement that all media agencies have done their best to report the ongoing protests in the most impartial way possible.
Although the protesters are inevitably upset by what they perceive as biased coverage by the media, reporters and journalists are entitled to the rights to cover the news and broadcast their stories without obstacle, the statement reads.
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