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Politics

Bangkok Post editor removed for refusing to 'tone down'

Major English-language newspaper denies government interference

The Bangkok Post under the stewardship of editor Umesh Pandey was notably critical of Thailland's ruling junta.

BANGKOK -- The editor of Thai English-language newspaper the Bangkok Post was removed from his post on Monday after refusing an alleged request from the company's board to "tone down" coverage deemed critical of the ruling junta.

On social media, Umesh Pandey said he was proud of the "hard-hitting news" that the paper had published under his leadership over the past 22 months.

"When asked to 'tone down' I did not budge and was blunt in letting those making the decision know that I'd rather lose my position than to bow my head," he posted on Monday evening.

His removal came 60 days before his two-year contract was due to expire, he added. "Tomorrow's paper does not belong to me," he told the Nikkei Asian Review on Monday. 

On Wednesday, the Bangkok Post published a statement on its front page claiming that the "transfer of our former editor is a result of several factors and bears no relation to our journalistic autonomy or the content which we have proudly produced for almost 72 years."

The newspaper also stressed that coverage in its print edition and online platform had "never been interfered [with] by either the government or company executives."

With the ruling military government marking four years in power next week and a long-awaited general election slated for next year, the Bangkok Post had been notably critical in its coverage of the junta.

In his editorials, Umesh often criticized the government and Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha for repeatedly delaying the election date and maneuvering to hold on to power after the vote.

The newspaper also began publishing a daily poll countdown after Prayuth promised U.S. President Donald Trump that elections would be held in November 2018, putting pressure on the former general to keep his word. The countdown was discontinued when the junta pushed back the date to February 2019.

Thailand has been under military rule since a coup led by Prayuth toppled the elected government of former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra in 2014. Yingluck and her elder brother Thaksin retain a considerable support base in rural areas, while the military is mainly backed by the Bangkok elite.

The Bangkok Post is one of Thailand's two largest English-language newspapers. Its main shareholder is the Chirathivat family, which owns the country's largest retailer Central Group. The board of directors is chaired by Suthikiati Chirathivat, son of the group's founder, and includes several other family members. Chartsiri Sophonpanich, president of Thailand's largest lender Bangkok Bank, also sits on the board.

Marwaan Macan-Markar, Asia regional correspondent in Bangkok, contributed to this article.

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