Thai public demanding inquiry into sexual harassment case involving news director
A petition was launched Monday demanding a national media association reveal the full results of an inquiry into allegations of sexual harassment involving a prominent news director.
Twelve reporters so far have signed the petition accusing the Thai Journalists Association, or TJA, of burying key findings and issuing a misleading statement fundamentally different from what was agreed. The allegations were confirmed by several people who either helped write or have seen the original report.
The reporter who organized the campaign said the public has the right to learn the truth of what really happened.
“I wanted to meet with the association chairman and the fact-finding committee to ask them personally about the facts, which I think are still vague,” said Nattharavut Muangsuk, a Channel 9 producer. “Because I think they are not clear at all. I want to ask the chairman: Am I right or wrong?”
The inquiry was convened five months ago after complaints surfaced that the director of investigative Isra News agency made unwanted advances and groped a female employee, forcing her to quit the newsroom.
Six experts were brought in to investigate. The committee’s inquiry was to be independent.
Late last month, the association released a two-page report dismissing the incident in vague terms.
The TJA statement did not identify Isra News Director Prasong Lertrattanasut by name, despite it being public knowledge – and Prasong’s own acknowledgement of the accusations in statements defending his innocence.
“All current staff of the Isra Institute affirm our confidence in the overall behavior of Mr. Prasong Lertrattanasut,” said the statement signed by Isra executive Vimolphan Peetathawatchai in September. “And we are willing to fight alongside Mr. Prasong Lertrattanasut to prove all facts.”
Prasong has consistently declined to discuss the allegations. Repeated calls made in the past two weeks to Isra News director to talk about the allegations and the report have gone unreturned. On Monday, someone answering the phone at his office said he was not there.
TJA chairman Poramet Lekpetch rejected the petition. He said the full report would remain secret because it could affect the parties involved.
“Whoever’s a women rights expert would understand this,” Poramet said.
TJA and Isra are located in the same building. They have also collaborated in a number of projects in the past.
Last month’s TJA statement, approved by Poramet, summarized the investigation’s findings. He said the committee determined what happened a “misunderstanding” that only involved “teasing and physical contact as is normal for people who are close with one another” that “potentially led to risk of sexual harassment.” No one was found to be at fault.
It added that the two parties had apologized to each other, with the victim agreeing not to pursue legal action.
But one member of the fact finding committee, law professor Jade Donavanik, said that statement differed significantly from the full 15-page report, though he would not identify specific discrepancies.
The statement TJA released to the public was slammed as the dubious equivalent to victim-blaming by a number of women’s rights advocates. Nattharavut repeated the criticism today.
“It sort of blamed the woman for misunderstanding it on her own,” he said. “And in this case, did the fact-finding committee render any guilty verdict at all?”
Two sources close to the TJA, who have personally seen the full report, said the association took out key details from the paper and drafted a misleading statement for public release. The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they were told not to speak about it by the TJA.
According to the sources, the full report concluded that Prasong pursued a romantic relationship with a junior female reporter despite her lack of interest. It made no mention of groping.
After the accuser went public that she was dating someone else, Prasong’s behavior eventually made her feel “uncomfortable” enough to quit the company, the sources said. They added that the fact-finding committee ruled Prasong’s actions were inappropriate.
Nattharavut said he will continue to collect signatures from fellow reporters “over the next several days” before submitting them to the TJA. He called upon reporters to make a stand against sexual harassment in their ranks.
“We cannot be idle about this. We have to show: This is the power of reporters. Reporters must help each other,” Nattharavut said. “If reporters are idle, the future of media in this country will be dire. Because it means we think sexual harassment is normal.”