Tham Luang cave ordeal puts spotlight on Thai media

Thai media have come under heavy criticisms for what is seen as their overzealous competition in covering the Tham Luang rescue operation, with some 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 yesterday.

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 one of the most challenging rescue operations that is getting world-wide 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 standard.

The Thai Broadcast Journalists Association today issued a statement calling on journalists to strictly abide by the code of ethics and to respect rights to privacy of people involved in the Tham Luang cave ordeal.   It urges 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 Mae Sai district of Chiang Rai to cover the rescue operation.