BBC un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for pro­file of Thai king

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

BANGKOK: Thai au­thor­i­ties are in­ves­ti­gat­ing the BBC over a Thai-lan­guage pro­file of the new king, of­fi­cials said yes­ter­day, af­ter the ar­ti­cle out­raged ul­tra-roy­al­ists in a coun­try where crit­i­cism of the monar­chy is out­lawed. A harsh royal defama­tion law has been used to jail scores of crit­ics and spawned a cul­ture of self-cen­sor­ship across the king­dom’s me­dia, academia and the arts.

The BBC is now un­der scru­tiny for the pro­file pub­lished out of its Lon­don of­fices of King Maha Va­ji­ra­longkorn, who as­cended to the throne last week. The royal suc­ces­sion was Thai­land’s first in seven decades and is con­sid­ered a del­i­cate mo­ment for the in­sti­tu­tion. Va­ji­ra­longkorn does not com­mand the re­spect en­joyed by his late revered fa­ther.

The BBC pro­file in­cluded in­for­ma­tion about Va­ji­ra­longkorn’s per­sonal life that is well-known in­side the king­dom but rarely printed by Thai me­dia, such as de­tails about his three mar­riages that ended in divorce. The ar­ti­cle, which has since been blocked on­line in Thai­land, quickly went vi­ral on so­cial me­dia but at­tracted a tor­rent of crit­i­cism from roy­al­ists.

Any mem­ber of the pub­lic can al­lege royal defama­tion and au­thor­i­ties are duty bound to in­ves­ti­gate. On Tues­day a team of po­lice of­fi­cers vis­ited the BBC’s Bangkok of­fice but found it closed. “This case is in the process of in­ves­ti­ga­tion but I can­not dis­close the de­tails,” Porn­chai Chalordej, the com­man­der of the Bangkok po­lice sta­tion re­spon­si­ble for the case, told AFP. Top lead­ers from Thai­land’s roy­al­ist junta, which has ramped up use of the lese ma­jeste law since the 2014 coup, de­fended the probe on Wed­nes­day.

“As they have an of­fice in Thai­land and Thai re­porters work there they must be pros­e­cuted when they vi­o­late Thai law,” junta chief Prayut Chan-OCha said of the BBC. The junta’s num­ber two, de­fence min­is­ter Prawit Wong­su­won, stressed the po­lice’s duty to in­ves­ti­gate any wrong­do­ing. “If any­thing is il­le­gal we must pros­e­cute ac­cord­ingly with­out ex­cep­tion,” he told re­porters.

The BBC de­fended the pro­file in a state­ment and said its Thai-lan­guage ser­vice was com­mit­ted to bring­ing “im­par­tial, in­de­pen­dent and ac­cu­rate news to a coun­try where the me­dia faces re­stric­tions”. “We are con­fi­dent that this ar­ti­cle ad­heres to the BBC’s ed­i­to­rial prin­ci­ples,” it added. On Satur­day a prom­i­nent Thai dis­si­dent was ar­rested for shar­ing the BBC pro­file on Face­book. Jatu­pat “Pai” Boon­pat­tararaksa, a leader of a small group of anti-junta stu­dents, was re­leased on bail but faces up to 15 years in prison if con­victed of lese ma­jeste.

The BBC’s Thai ser­vice is one of few plat­forms that pub­lishes com­par­a­tively un­fil­tered re­port­ing in the Thai lan­guage. Its ar­ti­cles are edited and pub­lished out of Lon­don, though the ser­vice em­ploys a small num­ber of lo­cal staff in Bangkok. The BBC’s English-lan­guage bureau in Bangkok is an ed­i­to­ri­ally sep­a­rate en­tity.

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