BANGKOK — A reporter on Thursday debunked allegations that deputy junta chairman Prawit Wongsuwan slapped her face at a news conference.
Wassana Nanuam, a veteran military reporter for Bangkok Post, insisted the general merely punched her stomach playfully per his habit of joking around with reporters. She said the encounter was misinterpreted and overblown on social media.
“Uncle Pom’s style is sometimes teasing, sometimes serious,” Wassana wrote online, using Prawit’s nickname. “He may approach you, gritting his teeth. He may smile, or not smile. He punches your arm, your tummy, playfully and almost not playfully.”
Wassana, who has cultivated close ties with the military throughout her career, said Prawit gave her the friendly punch at Government House yesterday after she questioned him repeatedly about an online article that lists the general as one of Asia’s top billionaires.
Prawit dismissed the report as fake news, and said he had already disclosed his wealth to the national anti-graft office.
In a video taken at the interview, Prawit is seen approaching Wassana with a menacing look after the reporter pressed the matter. The sound of Prawit hitting Wassana offscreen can be heard in the video, followed by the general saying “What damn website?”
A correspondent for Khaosod present at the news conference said Prawit did not slap Wassana. Yet reports of the general slapping a reporter soon spread on the internet, where many condemned the deputy junta head for behaving inappropriately.
Criticism later turned to Wassana herself after she maintained no assault took place.
“So you let him punch your stomach, and then you’re not mad at him … or taking legal action against him at all?” user Winai Poncharoen wrote in reply to the reporter.
Anti-junta activist Nuttaa “Bow” Mahattana also lashed out at Wassana for normalizing what she sees as abusive behavior toward the press.
“Even if it was not a slap … it was still a very inappropriate action, and reporters should not think it’s normal,” Nuttaa wrote online. “It’s very worrying how this kind of culture affects the media’s role to scrutinize those in power.
Critics of the military regime have long criticized the media for seemingly harboring cozy relations with the junta despite its hostility against reporters.
In November 2018, Prawit responded to questions about election dates by challenging a reporter to a fistfight.