Army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha has ordered his troops to call off their protest against the ASTV Manager newspaper after more than 30 soldiers gathered outside the ASTV headquarters Saturday.
UNIFORM APPROACH: About 30 soldiers gather in front of the ASTV office yesterday for a second day of protest against the paper’s criticisms of army chief Prayuth Chan-ocha.
The soldiers arrived outside the ASTV head office on Phra Athit Road at 10.30am Saturday for a second day of protests.
They were angered by the newspaper's criticisms of Gen Prayuth, sparked by a difference in opinion between the army chief and ASTV Manager over the pending ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the dispute between Thailand and Cambodia over the Preah Vihear temple.
The protest followed a similar rally by about 50 soldiers from the First Army Region on Friday. They were angered by an opinion piece published that day on ASTV Manager's website, which compared Gen Prayuth to "a woman on her period" and said he had failed in his duties as army chief.
The comment was in response to Gen Prayuth criticising the newspaper on Thursday for its stance that the the ICJ does not have the jurisdiction to rule on the border dispute.
Army spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Gen Prayuth instructed soldiers to call off the protest.
"The army chief has told the troops to stop," Col Sansern said.
"Acting emotionally will not help solve problems. He hopes this [protest] will end because he does not want the public to misunderstand the military."
He said the army would continue to perform its duties for the benefit of the country and would not be adversely affected by any criticisms.
The public can decide for themselves if such criticisms are warranted, he said.
Lt Gen Phaiboon Khumchaya, commander of the First Army Region, yesterday admitted that he granted the soldiers permission to stage the protest because he could not restrict their right to free expression.
He said he told them to avoid breaking any laws and to respect others' rights.
Deputy army chief Winthai Suwari said the army is ready to listen to all sectors of society, including the public, the media and pressure groups.
"The army does not want the media or any pressure groups to view the army as their opponent, even if the army does not support their opinions or criticisms," he said.
An army source said yesterday an officer attached to the secretariat of the army headquarters had called ASTV Manager to tell the newspaper that its reporters would not be allowed to enter army headquarters to cover the Children's Day events being held there.
However, they would be allowed back into the compound tomorrow to cover army news as normal.
The Thai Journalists Association yesterday issued a statement calling on the army to stop the protests.
The association said in its statement that the gatherings of the soldiers outside the ASTV office were tantamount to intimidation of the media.
The statement included a reminder that the right of the media to present news and opinion was guaranteed by the constitution.
The association said the army should respect the media's freedom to perform their duty. If the army feels that any media organisation has failed to perform its duty properly, it can seek legal action, the statement said.
The association also reminded media professionals to present information and opinions based on professional ethics and to avoid resorting to insults.
Academics yesterday said independent media organisations should step forward to mediate the dispute between the army and ASTV.
Civil Media Development Institute chairwoman Uajit Wirotetrairat criticised both the army and ASTV Manager.
She said ASTV was selective about what it presented, while the army chief tended to hit back at his critics rather explain his position.
"Media organisations should exercise their right to free expression properly," she said.
"Meanwhile, the soldiers should explore other channels to respond to criticism properly, not by staging a show of force."
Pirongrong Ramasoota, a media academic from Chulalongkorn University's communication arts faculty, said the army chief should file a defamation lawsuit if he considers ASTV Manager's criticisms offensive.
She said the protests may be seen as an attempt to intimidate the media, but ASTV must ask itself whether it presented information properly.
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Writer: Wassana Nanuam & Mongkol Bangprapa