Tensions and feelings are running high over the kingdom’s worst mass massacre. A senior police officer was summarily removed from his post on Monday after giving an interview during which he appeared to laugh and behave in a jocular manner while fielding questions on a case which has traumatised Thailand.
Two CNN journalists took an afternoon flight out of Thailand for Hong Kong on Monday after being cleared of trespassing in a controversy which blew up over the weekend linked to a report on the international TV news service from within the child care centre, the primary scene of last Thursday’s horrific mass murder in the province of Nong Bua Lamphu. The pair, an Australian woman and a British man, had earlier been fined for breaching the kingdom’s Immigration Act when it was found that they had entered Thailand on Thursday last on a tourist visa which allowed them to stay until November 19th. On Monday also, a senior police officer within Provincial Police Region 4 was removed from his post after conducting a broadcast interview during which he was heard laughing and responding in a jocular manner to questions about the ongoing investigation into the rampage of Police Corporal Panya Khamrab on Thursday 6th October which left 37 people dead, including 24 children at the daycare centre in Na Klang District of Nong Bua Lamphu.
Two journalists working with the international American TV news channel CNN departed from Suvarnabhumi Airport on Monday after police in Nong Bua Lamphu working with the Immigration Bureau fined the pair ฿5,000 each for illegally working in Thailand on the basis of a tourists visa.
The journalists, Australian 47-year-old Anna Coren and British national, 34-year-old Daniel Hodge, flew out on Thai Airways flight TG638 for Hong Kong after an investigation by Deputy Police Commissioner Surachate Hakparn appeared to clear them of trespassing on the site of last Thursday’s harrowing mass murder in the Na Klang District of Nong Bua Lamphu.
Journalists flew in from Hong Kong on Thursday to cover the breaking news of the massacre for US-based CNN as the story led news feeds over the weekend
The pair had flown in from the former British colony on Thursday last in coordination with CNN’s network operations centre in Atlanta, Georgia as news broke of the horrific mass massacre at the child day care centre in Nong Bua Lamphu in northeastern Thailand perpetrated by a disgraced former Thai police officer, Police Corporal Panya Khamrab.
The atrocity was worldwide news at the end of last week and all over the weekend as foreign governments and leaders expressed sympathy while offering their condolences to the people of Thailand.
Thailand’s worst-ever mass murder which saw twenty-four children among thirty-six murdered by the killer at the daycare centre in the Na Klang District of Nong Bua Lamphu and other locations in the district as well as his wife and son at home in a hate-filled killing spree last Thursday afternoon, has left the kingdom in a state of shock and deeply traumatised with many questions still to be answered in the days and weeks ahead.
Public outrage and anger at photos of a smiling Anna Coren and her colleague Daniel Hodge as they skipped over the cordon emerging from the crime scene
Over the weekend, this tense situation provoked public outrage when Thai media published a photo of the pair including a smiling Ms Anna jumping over the wall of the childcare centre with a camera after recording a news report from inside the facility.
As news spread, the hostile reaction included a hard-hitting statement of condemnation from both the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) and the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) with both media bodies describing the actions of the CNN reporters as unethical.
On Sunday, following a formal complaint to the police in Nong Bua Lamphu by local officials, an investigation was undertaken by Deputy Police Commissioner Surachate Hakparn who has been in Nong Bua Lamphu overseeing developments along with National Police Commissioner General Damrongsak Kittiprapat with whom he flew into the province last Thursday when news of the atrocity broke and on the orders of Prime Minister Prayut Chan ocha.
Police Commissioner confirmed on Sunday that the two foreign reporters will face no further prosecution over the affair and would not be blacklisted
On Sunday, General Damrongsak told reporters that the two journalists had apologised for their actions at the site of the massacre to the people of Thailand.
He revealed that they had been fined ฿5,000 each after their tourist visas were revoked and would face no further prosecution concerning the matter.
He also confirmed that both reporters would not be placed on a blacklist denying them future entry to Thailand because of the affair.
On Sunday, Police Major General Surachate disclosed that the pair had not been alone at the centre when they made their report and appeared to have been escorted. It is understood that six or seven people were in the building at the same time.
The reporters had explained earlier that they had requested and obtained permission from officials with the Ministry of Public Health to access the centre and that this was granted.
On Sunday, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan told reporters that the two reporters would be arrested and that there was no basis in law to either request or obtain permission to view and make a news report from a crime scene.
News report withdrawn by CNN, the US network issued an apology even as the network director insisted the two reporters had acted in ‘good faith’
In response to the controversy, CNN Vice President and General Manager Mike McCarthy confided that the news report in question had been withdrawn but insisted that the network’s reporters had acted in ‘good faith’ even though the permission granted by the officials concerned should not have been given.
‘We deeply regret any distress or offence our report may have caused, and for any inconvenience to the Thai police at such a distressing time for the country,’ Mr McCarthy said.
Police Major General Surachate also confirmed that the two journalists did not surreptitiously enter the building but did so openly with the consent of officials who were present at the time within the facility.
They had only climbed over the fence and the cordon on the way out when they found that access was blocked as they went to leave the building.
Foreign Correspondents Club and Thai Journalists Association issue highly critical statements on the actions of the CNN reporters in covering the story
The response from the influential Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT) to the actions of the CNN reporting team was scathing.
‘A CNN team entered a clearly-marked crime scene without permission, no matter what they may claim,’ the Bangkok-based body said. ‘This was unprofessional and a serious breach of journalistic ethics in crime reporting.’
The representative association of foreign reporters in Thailand also posed a pointed question to explain the anger felt in the kingdom about the American network’s actions in relation to the story.
‘Would one of their crews have behaved in the same way at a serious crime scene in the United States?’
The hostile reaction and palpable public anger were driven by the photo of a smiling Anna Coren and Daniel Hodge climbing over the wall of the facility and a cordon tape as they emerged from the scene inside with a video camera.
The Thai Journalists Association (TJA) particularly criticised the insensitivity and lack of judgement of the foreign news team.
‘CNN’s action, therefore, amounts to an intrusion into a major crime scene, a seriously flawed decision that no professional media should have taken – even if permission was indeed granted, the news crew and those responsible for their assignment should have exercised their judgement and refrained from entering a crime scene,’ a statement from the body read.
Royal Thai Police chief announces new policy on firearms which will be denied to erratic or ill-behaved police officers, public is also warned of scams
In the aftermath of the massacre, there is a lot of tension and soul-searching among officials, politicians and the public centred on how the massacre could have happened.
The Royal Thai Police chief, on Monday, announced that a new policy would be implemented to deny firearms to officers with a record of erratic and unpredictable behaviour.
At the same time, police throughout the kingdom are warning the public to be wary of scams involving unscrupulous fundraising efforts for the families of the dead and the injured which are not authorised.
Meanwhile, a senior police officer working with Provincial Police Region 4 which includes Nong Bua Lamphu was removed from his position on Monday after apparently laughing and behaving in a jocular manner while speaking on air about the massacre at the child care centre on Thursday in particular when asked about the final tally of victims.
Senior police officer removed from his post for laughing and engaging with questions in a jocular manner in a broadcast interview related to the case
It was confirmed that the Commander-in-chief of Provincial Police Region 4, Police Lieutenant General Yanyong Vejosot, had ordered the removal of Police Major General Paisal Luesomboon from his role as deputy chief and spokesman after the interview. He was replaced by Police Major General Putthipong Musikul.
It is understood that there was an onslaught of public criticism directed at the broadcaster and on social media due to the continued laughter of the senior police officer while giving details about the atrocity and the ongoing investigation.
The removal of the police officer is reportedly linked to the sensitive nature of the situation.
Lawyer’s council wanted CNN duo prosecuted on human rights grounds as Deputy Police Chief says they did not ‘intentionally trespass’ on state property
On Sunday, as news of the CNN crew’s actions drew negative reaction throughout Thailand, the Lawyers Council of Thailand called for both journalists to be detained for breaching the kingdom’s immigration laws and for a case to be brought against them for a possible breach of human rights.
However, the results of the investigation by Police Major General Surachate confirmed that the two journalists had sought permission from officials at the scene and were granted access.
‘The two spent some time taking photos inside the daycare centre. But when they finished and came out they saw the gate closed and they decided to climb over the fence. They had no intention of trespassing on state property or violating the state order or getting involved with any evidence,’ the senior police officer said. ‘The pair were willing to apologise to Thais for what they did unintentionally and they are ready to return to their home countries without being deported or blacklisted.’
About the Author
James Morris is a pename for an international writer based in Bangkok who works on various international news media. He is a sub editor with the Thai Examiner news website since it began in 2015. Son Nguyen is an international writer and news commentator specialising in Thai news and current affairs. He commenced working with the Thai Examiner News Desk in May 2018.