Prayuth to troops: Stand down at ASTV
Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has made a u-turn on protests by soldiers at ASTV Manager and told them to stand down.
- Published: 12/01/2013 at 12:00 AM
- Newspaper section: topstories
The second rally against ASTV Manager on Saturday drew about 30 soldiers from the First Army Region to the media group's offices on Phra Arthit Road. (Photo courtesy of Daily News)
Gen Prayuth thanked his men for protecting the dignity of the army but ordered all unit commanders to stop lashing out at the newspaper, said Col Sansern Kaewkumnerd, the army spokesman.
It was reported earlier that some army personnel had barred reporters of ASTV-Manager and its satellite TV station from covering news inside army compounds.
"The army commander would like all soldiers to stop going [to ASTV Manager] and to end their action," Col Sansern said on Saturday afternoon.
The order was seen as an attempt to defuse tensions after soldiers rallied for a second consecutive day to vent their fury at ASTV Manager for its strident criticism of their boss.
Gen Prayuth earlier appeared to have given the protest his tacit blessing when he said the men were standing up for the army and not for him personally.
About 30 troops from the First Army Region gathered in front of the ASTV-Manager headquarters at 10.30am for 30 minutes to protest against the media group's attack on Gen Prayuth.
About 50 soldiers had converged at the same location on Phra Arthit Road in Bangkok on Friday.
ASTV Manager has cried foul about intimidation, and the Thai Journalists Association (TJA) called for the army to stop threatening the media.
The TJA said threats against the media could prevent people from obtaining facts. It called on the army to respect freedom of the press. If the army feels the media have violated its rights, it can file a complaint with the National Press Council, the TJA said.
The row began after ASTV Manager published an article on Thursday criticising Gen Prayuth for his handling of the border dispute with Cambodia near the Preah Vihear temple.
Gen Prayuth countered, calling it a "lousy" newspaper.
ASTV Manager was founded by Sondhi Limthongkul, one of the core leaders of the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD). Its coverage is overwhelmingly critical of the current government but criticism of the army is a new development.
ASTV Manager hit back at Gen Prayuth after the Friday protest by branding him a failure for his inability to tackle all the problems under his responsibility, including violence in the South and the territorial dispute with Cambodia.
Mr Sondhi, speaking from California on Saturday, said he would not apologise for his paper's stand. He claimed many soldiers and officers also believed Gen Prayuth had failed to stand up for the army against its critics including the red shirts.
The green-uniformed protesters on Saturday said the article has damaged their morale because the army chief is like their "second father". They demanded the media outlet issue an apology to the general.
They also denied being ordered by their superiors to stage the event.
Gen Prayuth told reporters earlier that the soldiers were free to hold such rallies because they were trying to protect the armed forces, not just him.
The situation would not have escalated if it had not been sensationalised by the press, he said while attending a Children's Day activity at the army headquarters early on Saturday.
The army chief reiterated that the army was not idling on the issues of southern violence or border disputes. Proper procedures must be taken to address these problems, Gen Prayuth said.
Lt Gen Paiboon Khumchaya, chief of the First Army Region, said he gave the soldiers permission to gather at the newspaper offices and denied that the army was threatening the media.
"Those soldiers just wanted to express their opinion. They did not threaten (ASTV Manager)," he said. "They asked my permission and I approved it because I could not curb their right to protect their supervisor."
ASTV Manager said it was planning to take legal action against the soldiers, calling their rally a violation of media rights.
PAD spokesman Panthep Puapongpan said on Friday that the soldiers' rally was an attempt to intimidate critics of Gen Prayuth.
In its statement on Saturday, the TJA called on the army chief to listen to media coverage that fairly reflected the army's and his performance without bias and in a constructive way.
At the same time, it said, all media should perform their duty in reporting news and expressing views in line with ethics. They should refrain from distorting the facts or abusing the dignity and human rights of people appearing in the news. They should also refrain from using rude or insulting words, it said.
ASTV Manager is a vocal backer of "patriots" in the PAD who say the International Court of Justice has no standing to review the Preah Vihear Temple case.
Gen Prayuth has said that Thailand should respect the ruling, regardless of the outcome, when it is issued in October.
"If [the PAD] were the government, I would have to listen to it. But since it is not, I have no idea what to do with it," Gen Prayuth said during a visit to the border area earlier in the week.
ASTV Manager responded by publishing a heated statement comparing Gen Prayuth to a woman on her period who is angry at other people.
Mr Sondhi, who has been visiting yellow-shirt sympathisers in California, phoned in to the Tee Sak Na programme on ASTV on Saturday, saying he felt sorry he was not in Thailand right now.
He claimed many army officers were disappointed with Gen Prayuth for failing to protect the army’s dignity when it was "insulted" by the red-shirts and the Department of Special Investigation, which continues to investigate the army's role in the political violence of 2010.
Gen Prayuth did not protect his subordinates killed by the red-shirts in 2010, but ordered soldiers to protect him by rallying in front of ASTV-Manager, he added.
Mr Sondhi insisted he would never apologise to the army chief. If Gen Prayuth fails to stop soldiers from gathering at his newspaper headquarters, he said, he would sent female yellow-shirts to rally at army headquarters.
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- Writer: Post Reporters