Tham Luang Cave Ordeal Puts Spotlight on Thai Media

By Thai PBS 10 July 2018

Thai media has come under heavy criticism for what is seen as its overzealous competition in covering the Tham Luang rescue operation, with some organizations being accused of breaching ethics and even potentially endangering the safety of a helicopter used to transport the rescued survivors.

Media critics also lambasted some of the newspapers and broadcasters for showing pictures and names of the four young Tham Luang cave survivors who were extracted from the cave in a dramatic rescue operation on Sunday.

One broadcaster was threatened with legal action for broadcasting a radio communication of officials during the rescue mission. Workpoint News, a leading digital broadcaster, had to issue an apology today for airing the sound clip.

Another broadcaster, PPTV, also came under fire for allowing its news team to fly a drone near a helicopter involved in the rescue mission on Sunday evening. The broadcaster today also issued an apology over the incident.

The Royal Thai Air Force, however, has asked the Civil Aviation Authority of Thailand to investigate PPTV’s use of the drone to take pictures of an army’s MI-17 helicopter evacuating the first batch of survivors from Tham Luang to Chiang Rai hospital.

Air Force spokesman Air Marshal Pongsak Semachai dismissed a claim by PPTV’s drone operator that he had permission to fly the aerial vehicle.

The incidents underscore the competitiveness of Thai media scrambling to cover a challenging rescue operation that has received worldwide attention.  Several media academics have come out to severely criticize what they see as journalists’ lack of ethics in their coverage.   But the harshest verdict comes from social media users who deplore what they claim to be the mainstream media’s poor professional standards.

The Thai Broadcast Journalists Association today issued a statement calling on journalists to strictly abide by the code of ethics and to respect the right to privacy of people involved in the Tham Luang cave ordeal. It urged the media to be particularly careful in discussing personal details of the survivors who are mostly teenagers and to refrain from impeding the rescue operation in the course of carrying out their journalistic duty. The National Press Council of Thailand issued a similar statement last week.

Officials estimated that there are more than 1,000 journalists, both Thai and international, converging in the Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai to cover the rescue operation.