Thursday, 23 June 2011

Journalist tells Indy he quit Reuters to publish story on Thailand based on WikiLeaks cables

Journalist Andrew MacGregor Marshall writes in the Independent today how he has given up the job he loved with Reuters to publish a report on the Thai monarchy based on US diplomatic cables obtained by WikiLeaks.

MacGregor Marshall, who was Reuters deputy bureau chief in Thailand, says the story has "already cost me a job I loved with Reuters, after a 17 year career," will mean he is unable to return to Thailand for many years and puts him at risk of international legal action.

He writes: "Thailand claims to be a democracy, and it is holding general elections on 3 July. It claims to be a constitutional monarchy, where the widely beloved 83-year-old King Bhumibol has no political role but provides moral guidance.

"There is no doubting the affection and respect that Thais have for their king. But Thailand's tragedy is that throughout its modern history, generals and courtiers have sabotaged Thai democracy while claiming to be acting in the name of the palace.

"Thailand is sliding backwards into authoritarianism and repression. And one stark indication of this is that just saying it is illegal.

"Thailand has the world's harshest lèse majesté law. Any insult to Bhumibol, Queen Sirikit or their son Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn, is punishable by three to 15 years in jail. Use of the law has surged, particularly since a coup in 2006. Respected academics and journalists are among those facing prison."

MacGregor Marshall says that three months ago as he read the diplomatic cables on Thailand, part of the "Cablegate" data obtained by WikiLeaks, he realised they could revolutionise the understanding of Thailand but there was no way he could write about them as a Reuters journalist.

He adds: "Reuters employs more than 1,000 Thai staff. The risks to them were significant. In my 17 years at Reuters I've covered many conflicts; I spent two years as Baghdad bureau chief as Iraq collapsed into civil war. Several friends in the company have been killed. I've always been proud to work for Reuters. When I was told my story could never be published, I understood.

"But I just could not accept giving up and ignoring the truth about Thailand. Thai people deserve the right to be fully informed, to debate their future without fear. With great regret, I resigned from Reuters at the start of June to publish my article for anybody who wants to read it.

"Today, I have done that. I am now a criminal in Thailand. It is desperately sad to know that I cannot visit such a wonderful country again. But it would have been sadder still to have had the chance to tell the truth, and fail to do so. It's my duty as a journalist, and a human being, to do better than that. That's why I published my story."

Reuters said in a statement published in the Independent: "Reuters didn't publish this story as we didn't think it worked in the format in which it was delivered. We had questions regarding length, sourcing, objectivity, and legal issues. Also, we were concerned the writer wasn't participating in the normal editing process that would apply to any story Reuters publishes."

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