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That's why I quit, says magazine editor, following controversial transfer of Bangkok Post's editor
The Straits Times
Thursday, February 26, 2004
BANGKOK - Barely a week after the controversial transfer of the Bangkok Post's editor, the former editor of a news magazine here disclosed that government meddling drove him to quit from his publication.
Mr Rungruang Preechakul resigned suddenly as editor of the long-established Siamrath Weekly News magazine earlier this month.
On Tuesday, the 48-year-old editor of Thailand's third-largest weekly news magazine broke his silence to tell The Nation newspaper why he quit.
He said that every page of his publication had been subject to censorship since the beginning of this month.
Without his knowledge, 30,000 copies of the 90-page issue for the week from Feb 6 were recalled by the magazine's owner just hours before they were due for distribution on Feb 5.
The issue was critical of the way Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra's administration had handled the outbreak of the bird flu.
A heavily revised edition was sent to newsstands a day late.
The earlier reports strongly critical of the government were replaced with a simple explanation of how the authorities had been dealing with the outbreak.
'All the previous reports had been removed and the lead story of that edition was rewritten... my only choice was to resign so that the company may survive,' Mr Rungruang said, referring directly to political pressure from the Thaksin administration.
On Feb 6, Mr Rungruang decided it was time for him to quit after seven years at the helm of the magazine. During his last days as caretaker editor of the next edition, he stayed away completely from national politics.
That edition's cover story was on ethnic fighting in Myanmar, but the censors continued to hound him into the wee hours of the morning.
'The management told me they wanted to censor every page,' he said.
'Even at three in the morning, while I was writing my editorial, they came to see me to ensure I was not intending to drop a bomb before I left.'
Twenty other columnists, including well-known journalist Chatcharin Chaiwat, poet laureate Praiwarin Khaongarm and four of the six full-time editorial staff either left quietly or simply stopped writing for the magazine.
Mr Chatchawan Kongudom, a Bangkok senator who is the owner and chairman of Siamrath Weekly News, was unavailable for comment.
Mr Rungruang said the chain of events began during last year's Apec summit, when the government went into 'image-management' mode.
Siamrath stood out as one of its strongest critics in the Thai-language press.
'We tried to inform the public that the government's measures, be it rounding up the poor homeless people or dogs, were facile,' said the ex-editor. 'We also questioned who was truly benefiting from any free trade agreement.
'I don't know when it happened exactly, but the government eventually brought pressure to bear on Siamrath's owner.
'From then on, any report must be carefully written and, if deemed negative towards the government, censored by the owner.'
Suggesting Thailand was moving towards autocratic rule, he said: 'The loss of a free press in this country will make any future conflicts in society volatile, because no independent media will be left to bring it to the public's attention.'
The Bangkok Post, another influential English-language daily, has also been hit by what journalists and media critics have called 'government interference'.
Post editor Veera Prateepchaikul, whose paper had been critical of Mr Thaksin, was transferred last week to another job within Post Publishing, owners of the newspaper.
Date Posted: 2/26/2004
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