Thailand: BBC rejects claims reporter insulted country’s king

 

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The BBC has robustly rejected allegations filed by a Thai policeman that one of its veteran correspondents insulted the country’s revered 80-year-old King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

The fresh lese-majesty complaint made by the police lieutenant-colonel, who claimed to be acting in a private capacity, accused the south-east Asia correspondent Jonathan Head of criticising the monarchy.

But in a statement the BBC said the charges, which accused Head of being part of anti-monarchy “conspiracy” involving the deposed prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra, were groundless.

Thailand’s lese-majesty laws are among the toughest in the world, carrying a prison term of up to 15 years. But because anyone can file a complaint, they are often misused for ulterior, political motives.

Last week cabinet minister Jakrapob Penkair was forced to step down after police decided to press formal charges on a complaint made by the officer, Watanasak Mungkijakandee, who filed the allegations against Head.

In April, Watanasak filed a lese-majesty complaint against Head for remarks he made while moderating a discussion “Coup, Capital and Crown” at Bangkok’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club six months ago. Police are still investigating its merit.

But Watanasak made new and more wide-ranging allegations against Head last Friday, citing that his reporting between 2006 and 2008 had “damaged and insulted the monarchy”.

In support of his complaint he submitted 11 articles from the BBC website – some not written by Head – and a picture of the correspondent shaking hands with Thaksin ahead of a 2001 interview.

The policeman maintained in his submission that this showed Head was “very close” to Thaksin, who lacked “loyalty to the royal institution”.

In fact, Head’s reporting often mentioned the corruption allegations swirling around the former prime minister ousted in the 2006 coup.

“The allegations made against Jonathan Head are completely unfounded,” said the BBC South Asia bureau editor, Paul Danahar, in statement.

“The BBC understands that the police in Thailand are required to investigate all complaints of lese-majesty and will cooperate with that investigation.

“But it is very upsetting that his work should be incorrectly presented in this way and it has caused great distress to both him and his family.”

Reuters India

BBC rejects Thai royal slur complaint

Mon Jun 2, 2008 9:02am IST

BANGKOK, June 2 (Reuters) – The BBC has rejected police allegations in Thailand that one of its correspondents insulted revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej, a charge that can result in up to 15 years in jail.

The lese majeste complaint, filed by a police lieutenant-colonel, alleges that the British broadcaster’s South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head “intentionally criticized the monarchy several times”.

It also says that Head, a British journalist with more than 12 years experience in southeast Asia, was part of an anti-monarchy “conspiracy” involving Thaksin Shinawatra, the telecoms billionaire who was ousted as Prime Minister in a 2006 coup.

Prior to the coup, Thaksin was regularly accused of having insufficient respect for the King, who is regarded as semi-divine by many of Thailand’s 65 million people.

“The allegations made against Jonathan Head are completely unfounded,” BBC Asia Bureau Editor Paul Danahar said in a statement.

“The BBC understands that the police in Thailand are required to investigate all complaints of lese majeste, and will co-operate with that investigation,” he said.

“But it is very upsetting that his work should be incorrectly presented in this way and it has caused great distress to both him and his family.”

The May 30 complaint, filed by Police Lieutenant-Colonel Watanasak Mungkijakandee, says that Head’s reporting from 2006 to 2008 “damaged and insulted the reputation of the monarchy”.

One of his specific complaints relates to the placing of a picture of Thaksin above a picture of the King on the BBC website news.bbc.co.uk, in contravention of a Thai convention that images of the monarch must always be at the top

Lese majeste complaints in Thailand can be filed by anybody, leading to their frequent abuse by feuding politicians.

The King himself made it clear in 2005 that he should not be above criticism. (Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Bill Tarrant)

 

The Press Association

BBC defends journalist over ‘slur’

 

The British Broadcasting Corporation says complaints against one of its reporters charging that he defamed Thailand’s king are “completely unfounded”.

The statement issued by BBC Asia Bureau Editor Paul Danahar comes in response to allegations filed with Thai police claiming that correspondent Jonathan Head has committed the crime of insulting the monarchy.

The complaints, one filed in April and the second last week, have been lodged by a Thai police lieutenant colonel claiming to be acting in a personal capacity.

“The allegations made against Jonathan Head are completely unfounded,” said Mr Danahar, adding that it was upsetting that the reporter’s work had been misrepresented, and that the charges have caused distress to him and his family.

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