Media ethics in question

Media ethics in question

As police widen a probe into the alleged extortion scandal involving activist Srisuwan Janya -- arresting some of his group, including politicians -- some crucial information remains missing: have any journalists had a hand in the case?

Police raided Mr Srisuwan's house in Pathum Thani on Jan 26, alleging he had a role in the extortion attempts against Rice Department chief Natthakit Khongthip. He was later to defend his department's budget before a House panel scrutinising the details.

Police say the activist and his group initially demanded three million baht in total, and after negotiations, the sum was reduced by half. Some of the extortion money was to be deposited in bank accounts opened by proxies. Police say the activist is part of a network which has tried to extort money from many government entities with the threat that if they do not pay up, the network will release incriminating information about them.

The arrest was made after undercover officers delivered 500,000 baht as part of the extorted sum to Srisuwan's wife. When he saw police, the activist tried to throw the money bag away but police still caught him. Three more suspects who were subsequently arrested, and granted bail, are Yoswaris Chuklom, also known as Jeng Dokjik, Phimnattha Chiraphutthiphak, and Eakluck Wareechol. Police are seeking a warrant for another suspect.

Apart from the 500,000 baht in cash, key evidence has emerged in the case, such as Line chat messages between Mr Yoswaris and Mr Natthakit's wife as they tried to settle the amount. In his messages, which were released to a TV programme host, Mr Yoswaris mentioned unspecified amounts of payments to a few journalists. Such remarks give the impression that the journalists took part in the crime.

The journalists' names or their employers are unknown and, despite the damage to the media's credibility, there have been no attempts by media organisations and ethics regulators to investigate. This is a shame.

However, this is not the first scandal involving the media. The most recent one involved Pol Gen Surachate Hakparn when he was contending for the top position at the Royal Thai Police (RTP) last September.

At that time, the general -- who is known for his thirst for publicity -- said he had paid quite a few journalists each month. With such a blatant statement, media regulators had to step in and investigate. The results have yet to be released.

There are reports the results may come out in the next two months and it remains unclear if the regulators would dare to get tough with the journalists involved, should they find they received a monthly payment from Pol Gen Surachate. Some have predicted the results could be watered down.

With regard to the Srisuwan case, the silence of media ethics regulators does not bode well for the press and news media, which are in crisis.

With challenges from social media, mainstream media is already struggling to survive amid a decline in readership. A dent in public trust would make things worse.

Therefore, media regulators cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the scandal, or it could cause further damage. Instead of keeping their distance, media regulators such as the National Press Council of Thailand and the Thai Journalists Association, must act and deal straightforwardly with the case.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

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