Thai daycare massacre: CNN criticized for ‘unethical’ reporting, journalists deported

Subel Rai Bhandari and Nontarat Phaicharoen
2022.10.10
Bangkok
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Thai daycare massacre: CNN criticized for ‘unethical’ reporting, journalists deported Relatives of the daycare mass killing victims offer food to Buddhist monks in a ceremony at Wat Rat Samakkhi in Uthai Sawan, northeastern Thailand, Oct. 10, 2022.
Sakchai Lalit/AP

Thai immigration officials on Monday deported two CNN journalists after they were denounced for entering the site of a daycare massacre and broadcasting graphic images from the crime scene.

Meanwhile, funerals for the 36 victims continued, as workers and monks built cremation pyres on the grounds of several Buddhist temples in advance of last rites ceremonies.

Over the weekend, Thai police detained Australian reporter Anna Coren and British cameraman Daniel Hodge after a local official filed a complaint that the duo had improperly entered the site of the rampage where 24 children between the ages of 2 and 5 were killed by an ex-cop on Thursday. Officials and other journalists slammed the CNN reporting as unethical and insensitive.

Thai immigration officials told BenarNews on Monday that the pair were escorted to Bangkok airport and deported because they were working without a media visa, which is a criminal offense.

“[We] sent them back in the afternoon because they had their visa revoked,” said Lt. Gen. Pakpoompipat Sajjapan, chief of the immigration bureau.

Danaichok Boonsom, a local administration official, filed charges against the reporters at a police station in Uthai Sawan, northeastern Thailand, saying the CNN video broadcast had taken a serious toll on locals, especially the bereaved relatives.

“Give us respect. What did you do that for?” the local official told reporters after coming out of the police station, the Bangkok Post reported.

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Danaichok Boonsom talks to reporters after filing a case against CNN reporters at a police station in Uthai Sawan, northeastern Thailand, Oct. 9, 2022. [Sakchai Lalit/AP]

A senior Thai police officer said investigators had found that the CNN team was unaware that the person who allowed them to enter the center was not authorized to do so.

“Based on witnesses and pictures, they did not intend to trespass, because at that time there was preparation to receive a royal wreath and the door was open,” Maj. Gen. Surachate Hakparn, deputy national police chief, told reporters.

While they were cleared of wrongdoing, Surachate said, the government fined the pair 5,000 baht [U.S. $132] each for illegally working after entering the country on the tourist visas.

CNN pulled the story on Sunday, saying the network regretted “any distress or offense our report may have caused, and for any inconvenience to the Thai police at such a distressing time for the country.

“If the team understood that the building and its rooms were off limits, they would not have entered,” CNN said in the statement posted to Twitter, adding there was no police tape at the scene at the time.

“The team entered the building in good faith, to gain a fuller impression of what transpired inside and to humanize the scale of the tragedy for their audience.”

Coren and Hodge apologized to the victims’ families and Thai authorities in a video filmed inside a local police station.

“We are so sorry if we’ve caused you more pain and suffering. That was never our intention … and we never came here to cause more grief,” Coren said in the video circulated by Thai police.

Insensitive, unethical

Still, the Thai public and members of the media slammed CNN.

“Saying they didn’t know they were breaking any rules is missing the point. There were no rules at what was a fluid and traumatic crime scene. This is about ethical judgement, not rules,” BBC correspondent Jonathan Head fumed on Twitter.

“They didn’t cross the police line after all, but they still crossed the line of decency,” Stéphane Peray, a French cartoonist based in Bangkok, posted on Twitter on Monday, above a cartoon depicting CNN as a hungry hyena crossing toward a dead zebra marked “exclusive story.”

The Thai Journalists Association criticized the CNN actions as “unethical” and “insensitive.”

Tú Anh Nguyễn, who teaches communication arts at Khon Kaen University in northeastern Thailand, said CNN crew’s actions were “inappropriate for Thailand because the killing was tragic for the Thai people.”

Thai Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul also slammed the foreign journalists, saying an open door should not be an excuse to enter a crime scene.

“It was inappropriate,” he told reporters on Sunday. “You are foreign reporters. You must have ethics in how to present news.”

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Buddhist monks oversee the construction of cremation pyres for the daycare massacre victims at Wat Rat Samakkhi temple in Uthai Sawan, northeastern Thailand, Oct. 10, 2022. [Wason Wanichakorn/AP]

Cremation preparations

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha and members of his cabinet were scheduled to attend royal palace-sponsored group cremations on Tuesday at several temples in Nong Bua Lam Phu province, a government spokesman said.

Workers and monks constructed the cremation pyres on Monday.

Last rites for 19 people were to begin at 9 a.m. on Tuesday at Wat Rat Samakkhi, its abbot, Adisai Kijjanuwat, told The Nation newspaper. Adisai said Tuesday’s event would be the first mass cremation at the temple and he hoped it would be the last.

Local media reported that the attacker, Panya Khamrab, was cremated on Saturday in a neighboring province after local temples refused to host his final rites.

At the time of the attack, Panya was facing trial on drug-related offenses. Thai police said an autopsy found that he had not taken any drugs in the 72 hours prior to the attack.

Also on Monday, Prayuth ordered the Interior Ministry to launch frequent, comprehensive crackdowns on illegal drugs and called on the Public Health Ministry to take action to properly rehabilitate addicts, spokesman Anucha Burapachaisri said in a statement.

Opposition political parties, meanwhile, agreed to seek a special parliament session to discuss the killing spree and drug abuse, saying they want lawmakers to find ways to prevent future atrocities. One-third of lawmakers from both chambers must come together to submit such a request.

Cholnan Srikaew, who leads the main opposition Pheu Thai Party, promised a “war on drugs” if the party wins next year’s elections, slated to take place in the first half of 2023. He also called for a review of gun legislation.

In Thailand, mass shootings are rare even though firearm ownership is among the highest in Asia.

Kunnawut Boonreak in Chiang Mai, Thailand, contributed to this report.

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