Teenage girls in Thailand found to 'idolise' murder suspect

As media outlets get carried away with sensational news on the Internet and become overly reactive about their popularity ratings, several academics yesterday voiced a note of caution.
PHOTO: The Nation/Asia News Network

As media outlets get carried away with sensational news on the Internet and become overly reactive about their popularity ratings, several academics yesterday voiced a note of caution.

Speaking at a forum organised by Chulalongkorn University, experts in their respective fields warned that too much coverage of sensational news could backfire and hurt people's rights to receive well-rounded and unbiased information.

The recent murder allegedly committed by a heavily tattooed, attractive girl has captured the attention of media outlets inside in the country and internationally.

The prime suspect, Priyanuch "Preaw" Nonwangchai, has become an Internet sensation, with media reports focusing not only on the investigation into the case but also on her private life, friends, adversaries and her expressions of "gratitude" to her family by sending them large amounts of money.

Social values

Saturated with "Preaw" coverage 24 hours a day, netizens have raised doubts about the media's responsibility to reflect and help shape social values, especially as teenage girls have started expressing feelings idolising Priyanuch.

"Selling one-dimensional news can imply that media underestimate members of public," mass communication expert Munyat Akarachantachote said.

"This will only further distance the media from the public and harm people's rights to access fair information."

Gruesome murder of Thai woman has nation transfixed

  • The recent murder allegedly committed by a heavily tattooed, attractive girl has captured the attention of media outlets inside in the country and internationally.
  • The three suspects - Priyanuch Nonwangchai, 24, Kawita Rachada, 26, and Apiwan Satayabundit, 28 - fled to Myanmar after allegedly killing Warisara Klinjui, 22, in late May. 
  • The driver of the rented car and his girlfriend, who is also a friend of the main suspect, were also arrested.
  • After fleeing across the border to Myanmar, the female suspects in the high-profile gruesome murder of Warisara Klinjui, 22, were eventually surrendered to Myanmar police opposite Chiang Rai's Mae Sai district in the northern region.
  • The victim's chopped-up body was found in two buckets in a bamboo forest in Khao Suan Kwang district in Khon Kaen. Her body was cut in half and her neck showed traces that someone had unsuccessfully tried to cut her head off.
  • Initially police could not identify the victim but they followed a clue provided by a tattoo on her body and eventually linked it to Warisara.
  • After the alleged murder, they escaped to Myanmar on May 25 via checkpoint in Chiang Rai province.
  • After surrendering to police in Myanmar, they were taken to Bangkok by a police helicopter.
  • As media attention on the suspects escalated, controversial images of police officers and suspects in the gruesome killing of karaoke singer Warisara Klinjui seemingly in a relaxed mood were leaked onto social media.
  • It drew criticims that police seemed eager to please suspects who had been charged with such a grisly murder.
  • Photos showing the suspects putting on make-up in a police station were leaked.
  • The three were also apparently not handcuffed when handed over from Myanmar authorities to Thai police, which was claimed to be against the rules.
  • 2 immigration police officers in Chiang Rai province were subsequently transferred out of their posts for taking photos with a smiling Priyanuch.
  • According to reports, Priyanuch has claimed she did not intend to kill the victim.
  • “I had no intention to kill her. If I did, I would have fled [and not come back],” said Priyanuch.
  • Police brought the suspects back to the scene of the crime for a re-enactment .
  • Many of the onlookers became angry and booed throughout the re-enactment.
  • Priyanuch claimed she loved the victim and did not know what to do when she realised she had killed her
  • She later confessed that she killed Warisara Klinjui due to a personal grudge concerning narcotics and a debt.
  • But people were shocked to discover that Priyanuch had apparently changed her Facebook cover photo on May 13, depicting Chucky, the doll character in horror films that delights in mutilating people.
  • Four of the five suspects in the much publicised dismemberment case of the karaoke bar worker are facing the death penalty.
  • The rented car where the strangulation of the victim had allegedly taken place.

Munyat said it was understandable that media outlets had to make profits from their operations, but added that they should rather focus on qualitative aspects to uphold ethics and to differentiate themselves from viral news spread by various sources on the Internet.

"Don't focus on the personal, sensational secrets so that you lose sight of the overall picture and what will benefit society," she said.

Criminal law expert Pareena Srivanich said reporting could also affect criminal proceedings.

While some reports might help trigger social awareness about the case and enable members of the public to help in the investigation, other reports could serve to alert culprits.

"Reporting on the case can also bring social judgement to a case, which could cause officers involved in justice process to be biased," she said.

"It can also bring harm to defendants, who should be legally protected as long as there has not been a final indictment."

Adult psychiatrist Puchong Laurujisawat added that reporting should be cautious to not automatically brand any defendant as having psychological problems or being mentally challenged.

He said that could create a bias against innocent people suffering those conditions.

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