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PDRC agrees to take action after string of attacks on reporters

REPRESENTATIVES of media associations met with leaders of the People's Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) yesterday after a string of assaults and incidents of harassment against reporters, with the latest victim being a female TV reporter splashed with water on her face.

"The [protest] leaders understood and expressed regrets," said Sadej Bunnag, Vice President for Rights and Liberty at the Thai Journalists Association (TJA), who was at the meeting.

Sadej said the PDRC will remind its guards to be non-violent and a direct line will be established between journalists and a protest leader. Both sides also agreed to keep all television news broadcasting vehicles in one area and maintain physical distance to ensure safety and to enable journalists to work without pressure.

On Sunday, Channel 9 TV reporter Penphan Lamluang was splashed with water on her face near Democracy Monument and protesters attempted to assault her before she was saved. Channel 9 stated that someone shouted: "They are lackeys of Thaksin. How can they say there are [just] 5,000 protesters?"

The channel denied its reporter ever said that and added that their vehicle had been attacked as it left the scene.

Sadej said reporters have been harassed and assaulted, but he was not certain about the exact number. The association will not issue a statement condemning the action, however.

"We've issued many statements already and it doesn't seem to be working," said Sadej.

Also on Sunday, Channel 3 reporter Warunee Susatsakulchai was also a target of an attack in the same way.

Shawn Crispin, senior Southeast Asian Representative for the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said both foreign and local reporters are being targeted by protesters and their leaders.

"A movement that is allegedly fighting for democracy should understand that [journalists] are observers," said Crispin. Crispin |said both pro- and anti-Thaksin Shinawatra movements tend to target journalists whom they consider to be on the other side.

Crispin also expressed concerns about the administration's threat to prosecute executives of Blue Sky channel.

Many journalists, meanwhile, pointed out that rally leaders who talk of attacking the media incite the crowds.

Wimonwan Thampakdee, of Thairath TV, said this rally was different from other protests because its leaders had criticised the way the media operated.

When Thailand faced political rallies in 2004, the Thai Journalists Association gave out armbands to distinguish reporters from protesters - but today armbands made reporters targets for some protesters.

"An armband is like a vacuum cleaner that sucks protesters to us. People walk up to reporters after they see an armband and ask 'Where do you work?' And some ask us: 'Do you come from Channel 9?'" she said.

Wimonwan said most news stations remove channel stickers from their cars for fear the protesters might destroy the vehicles.

On Monday, reporters from Channels 3 and 9 were threatened at the Democracy Monument and on Tuesday a reporter from Thai PBS was threatened at the Thai-Japan Youth Centre.

Wimonwan suggested protest leaders should be clear when |criticising the media that the reporters at the protest site have work to do.

Her suggestion to other reporters was not to report the number of protesters, prepare saline solution for tear gas attacks, and be ready to retreat herself suddenly if the situation turns bad.

Nicha Apirakkawananon, of Daily News Online, said it was |difficult when working at a rally |site when security guards obstructed her from meeting protest leaders.

She said sometimes when speakers on stage criticised the media, their intention was not to encourage attacks, but protesters often couldn't understand the real message.

Piyathida Pechdee, an INN reporter, said some protesters intimidated her by saying she should report the news, not change it.

Often when reporters were presenting the news at the protest site, demonstrators shouted in the background, resulting in their reporting becoming unclear, she said.




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