If it wasn’t bribery, then who was it, Thais have been asking after food conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Foods strongly denied the payments it had been making to journalists were anything other than a "special budget to support the media”.
Earlier this week, independent media watchdog Thailand Information Centre for Civil Rights and Investigative Journalism (TCIJ) revealed that a "large, national level food conglomerate that operates domestically and internationally" had been paying journalists cash sums in return for favourable reviews.
A document, said to be meeting minutes leaked from CP Foods and posted on TCIJ’s website, alleges that a company had issued monthly payments of between THB10,000-250,000 (US$310-7,800) per month to writers and editors of 18 radio, TV and print media organisations, while at the same time rewarding websites for deleting negative news and comments about the company.
Although the document does not reveal the company’s name, TCIJ hinted that it was headed by a "well-known figure, ranked one of the richest men in the world”.
Dhanin Chearavanont, the chairman and public face of Charoen Pokphand Foods, has been known for years as Thailand’s second-richest man, with a fortune estimated at US$12.3bn. In an industry where few other players match TCIJ’s description, many observers immediately assumed CP Foods had been the subject of the investigation.
According to the Bangkok Post, CP Foods admitted that the report referred to its public relations department, but claimed that it had been doctored and distorted.
In a statement, Punninee Nanthapanich, senior vice-president of CP Foods, said: "Charoen Pokphand Group clarifies that payments to the media were normal advertising payments made by our public relations department.
"However, we have a budget too for special press events including charity golf tournaments and seminars. We have never used money to pay off the media to conceal or distort news.”
The 1,000-page document featured a list of redacted names under the heading of “Journalists” alongside various cash amounts. CP Foods has also been accused of having paid off police officers to make sure the company’s name did not appear in a report obtained by the media.
The National Press Council of Thailand and the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand have set up an independent panel this week to investigate the matter. It is headed by National Anti-Corruption Commission secretary-general Klanarong Chantik.