Police let off CNN reporters with 5,000 baht fine over invasive massacre reporting

Deputy police chief ‘Big Joke‘ has done a 180 degree turn on CNN, letting off reporters with just a 5,000 baht fine (US$132) each for their invasive coverage of the daycare centre massacre in Nong Bua Lamphu province in northeast Thailand.

On Saturday, Surachate “Big Joke” Hakparn insisted on prosecuting two members of CNN staff for breaking into the crime scene and tampering with evidence, which is a crime punishable by up to five years in prison in Thailand.

US news agency CNN came under fire after Australian reporter Anna Coren and British cameraman Daniel Hodge filmed footage on Friday – which has since been taken down – of the blood-stained floor inside the daycare centre. They were accused of climbing over police tape to get their footage.

The footage garnered criticism from the Thai Journalists Association and the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand (FCCT), who released a statement saying they were “dismayed” at CNN’s footage, which they called “unprofessional and a serious breach of journalistic ethics in crime reporting.”

It was later found that both Coren and Hodge entered Thailand on tourist visas and had no right to be working in the kingdom.

Despite Big Joke announcing on Saturday that the police would pursue legal action against the reporter and cameraman, he made a second statement yesterday saying they would be let off but fined 5,000 each for working on a tourist visa. Neither Coren and Hodge were blacklisted meaning they can return to Thailand whenever they like.

Big Joke cited the police’s investigation which revealed that the reporter and cameraman did not intend to trespass and had not tampered with any evidence. However, they would be fined for working on a tourist visa, violating Thailand’s Management of Foreign Workers Decree (2017).

Their visas were not revoked but both Coren and Hodge are voluntarily leaving Thailand today after issuing a video apologising for causing “any extra grief” to the people of Thailand…

“I’d like to offer my deepest apologies to the people of Thailand, especially the families of the victims of this tragedy. We are so sorry if we’ve caused you more pain and suffering, that was never our intention,” said 47 year old Anna Coren from inside Na Klang Police Station.

“We’d also like to apologise to the Thai police and the deputy police chief for the inconvenience that we have caused. We know that your country is going through such a painful time and we never came here to cause more grief, so thank you.”

“I’d like to apologise to the people of Thailand for any extra grief we’ve caused through this incredibly traumatic time,” said 34 year old cameraman Daniel Hodge.

Both Coren and Hodge put their hands together in a wai gesture.

Executive Vice President & General Manager of CNN Mike McCarthy posted a statement this morning…

“CNN’s team reporting from the scene of the tragic event in Nong Bua Lamphu sought permission from Thailand Health Department officials present there to enter the daycare centre. The team now understands that these officials were not authorized to grant this permission. If the team had understood that the building and its rooms were off-limits, they would not have entered. It was never their intention to contravene any rules.

“The team entered the compound through an open gate to the yard, where other journalists were already present. There was no police tape on the scene at the time. After working carefully and respectfully inside the building for around 15 minutes the team went to leave, however, the gate to the grounds was now closed and police tape had been erected, which meant they needed to climb over the gate to exit.

“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. CNN has ceased broadcasting the report and has removed the video from its website. We deeply regret any distress or offence our report may have caused, and for any inconvenience to the Thai police at such a distressing time for the country.”

If you would like to donate to the injured or the families of those who lost loved ones in the massacre, find out how to do so here.

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Leah is a translator and news writer for the Thaiger. Leah studied East Asian Religions and Thai Studies at the University of Leeds and Chiang Mai University. Leah covers crime, politics, environment, human rights, entertainment, travel and culture in Thailand and southeast Asia.

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