Tangmo probe circus deepens public distrust

Tangmo probe circus deepens public distrust

In the circus that is the investigation into the cause of death of actress Nida "Tangmo" Patcharaveerapong, one thing that people can detect is the crumbling of virtually every profession and social construct relevant to the case.

The entertainment industry, media, forensic science, police work, rescue volunteers, so-called social media investigators down to what constitute our ideas of friendship or motherhood have been called into question as the case unfolded.

Was it an accident? Or attempted murder? Which of Tangmo's friends are her true friends? Is her mother too eager to put a price on her daughter's death to be seen as an ideal mother?

Three weeks after Tangmo fell from a speedboat into the Chao Phraya River and drowned on Feb 24, police have yet to wrap up the case.

Based on interviews with some 80 witnesses and footage from more than 60 CCTV cameras, however, police investigators said the evidence pointed to negligence causing death, rather than murder.

In what is seen as an indicator of how deep public distrust of the police and its investigation process runs, many people remain unconvinced.

So-called social media investigators keep pointing to "irregularities" as they wonder whether testimony by the five people on board the boat the night that the actress fell from the boat could be trusted.

The scepticism deepened as one of the suspects appears to be wealthy with connections to influential people.

With the key words -- "money", "influence" and "police" -- in the mix, it is no surprise the Thai public have become all stirred up as they began to doubt whether Tangmo's death was an accident as claimed by police.

As the pandemonium has grown, it is not just the police force but the media industry that is seen as "the bad guy" in the tragedy.

For many people, the media simply failed to do their job.

Instead of shedding light on the public's doubts and focusing on the search for what really happened, a number of media organisations have apparently been more keen on gaining eyeballs and online traffic with less than professional stories.

Interviews with shamans and opinions from people who are not directly related to the actress or her case, some of them clearly hungry for the spotlight, are abundant.

On news and talk shows, there seem to be no bounds as to how the case may be framed, who could be implicated or how this and that person should be judged.

It is no exaggeration to say that the media has set up both a noisy circus and has been the driver of the court of public opinion in the still unresolved case.

They have provided a whole lot of stories but few useful facts. They have also gone a long way in leading public opinion along with their own assumptions of who might be the do-gooders and the villains.

Some people believe talk-show trials and pressure from social media private eyes are useful in our society where the official investigation -- the police or justice process as a whole -- cannot always be trusted.

The "noise", no matter how rowdy or distracting, can at least help ensure there will be a certain level of transparency on the part of officials, they think.

Others, however, view the media coverage as excessive, or even irresponsible, and that it could make it more difficult to find out the truth.

As Tangmo's body will be sent for a second autopsy, many more questions and doubts about people in certain professions and they way they have conducted themselves have emerged.

Since the move to have the body reexamined apparently took place after a volunteer rescue worker who was among the first to see Tangmo's body told a TV show that there was bruising around her right eye and several of her teeth seemed broken, questions arose over whether he had overstepped his professional boundaries.

A forensic doctor asked whether it was right for journalists to rely on a rescue worker's comments about the body's condition instead of seeking opinions from a professional.

He also wondered whether a rescue volunteer would be penalised if he offered opinions to the public about the body as if he were a forensic doctor.

It is quite interesting that the doctor's comment was met with criticism that the time is gone for people to hold a monopoly over what is right or wrong in their profession.

Although a rescue worker or volunteer could not perform an autopsy, their observations or opinions based on their field experience could be useful to the investigation.

The questions, along with the debates and doubts that came before it, appear far from being settled as the case drags on.

Atiya Achakulwisut

Columnist for the Bangkok Post

Atiya Achakulwisut is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.

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