Meet the Thai journalist awarded 3,000 euros for fearless journalism
AFP Foundation recognizes Prachatai assistant editor Mutita Chuachang for her coverage of “sensitive topics” such as lese majeste cases.
Thai investigative journalist Mutita Chauchang, the 33-year-old assistant editor for Prachathai, was recently awarded the 2015 Kate Webb Prize by Agence France-Presse (AFP) for her reporting on Thailand's royal defamation law as well as other human rights abuses. The prize, which also comes with a 3,000 euro grant, is awarded each year to a journalist from the ASEAN region who works under dangerous conditions. Here, Mutita discusses the difficulties facing journalists in Thailand, and gives her thoughts on section 112 of the country's criminal code.
What does this award mean to you?
I’m honoured to receive this award. It's a good opportunity to spread this kind of story to the general public. However, my daily life still remains the same, working and reporting news. Personally, I myself did not go public very much. It was actually my colleague who applied for the prize, nominated my name and sent in my CV.
What drives you to report on controversial subjects?
Because no one else does. Basically I report news and information about local communities, but I delve deep into political issues. I strongly feel that issues like royal defamation cases need to be discussed, but no one seems to follow them up and dig out the details. It just does not make sense that the punishment for cases like these should be more severe than for murder. Leading mainstream media could do such a better job than me.
Do you fear for your freedom or safety?
I’m not afraid of being threatened because I never overstep the rules. I know where the appropriate line lies for reporting these kinds of stories, which need to be very carefully checked for factual errors before they get reported. But I am concerned about being misunderstood by Thai people and royalists.
What sort of background do you come from?
I grew up like any ordinary Bangkokian. I graduated from Thammasat University majoring in journalism and mass communication but I wasn't really into it. While I was studying, I attended more political science classes than I did for my major. After graduating I also interned as a journalist at Matichon for a while, which made me thoroughly dislike this job. They offered me a full-time job just as Prachathai was about to launch. I decided to move to Prachathai because it's less serious and would let me cover the topics I wanted to.
What do you think of journalism in Thailand?
We lack insight and investigative news. Nowadays the media industry is very competitive, and arguably it's those who are fastest that win. That means journalists are not capable of focusing all their efforts on one topic, which can consume a lot of time and resources. We should encourage the next generation of journalists to think more critically.
What do you think holds Thai journalists back?
It might be because our social atmosphere is very conservative, as well as our justice mechanism. Expressing yourself as a journalist feels risky. Right from the start, people can have the impression that you want to overthrow the monarchy with your work.
What makes you keep doing it?
I like the freedom to find the truth. If you want to know something, find it out through people’s minds and perspectives. Eventually, you can spread it to the Thai public to make them recognize what's really going on around their lives.