CNN has pulled a story on the massacre of Thai preschoolers and apologised after its journalists entered the childcare centre where 24 children were killed and filmed the crime scene without permission.
The two CNN journalists involved were fined after authorities found they had worked in the country after entering on tourist visas but they were cleared of wrongdoing for entering the nursery, deputy national police chief Surachate Hakparn said on Sunday.
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An investigation determined the journalists believed they had obtained permission to enter and film after being waved into the building by a volunteer or a health officer and were unaware the person was not authorised to allow them inside, he said.
They each agreed to pay fines of 5,000 baht ($133) and leave the country, Surachate said. Both journalists apologised as did CNN International’s executive vice president and general manager, Mike McCarthy.
McCarthy said his reporters never meant to break any rules and had sought permission to enter the building but the team “now understands that these officials were not authorised to grant this permission”.
“We deeply regret any distress or offense our report may have caused, and for any inconvenience to the police at such a distressing time for the country,” he said in the statement tweeted by CNN.
He said CNN ceased broadcasting the report and removed the video from its website.
Authorities began looking into the incident after a Thai reporter posted an image on social media of two members of the crew leaving the scene in northeastern Thailand, where they were reporting on Thursday’s attack by a sacked policeman who authorities say massacred 36 people, 24 of them children.
One CNN crew member was seen climbing over the low wall and fence around the compound, over police tape, and the other already outside.
The image prompted criticism from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand, which said it was “dismayed” by CNN’s coverage and the decision to film the crime scene inside.
“This was unprofessional and a serious breach of journalistic ethics in crime reporting,” the club said.
The Thai Journalists Association criticised the actions as “unethical” and “insensitive”.
In an initial response, CNN tweeted that the crew had entered the premises when the police cordon had been removed from the childcare centre and were told by three public health officials exiting the building that they could film inside.
“The team gathered footage inside the centre for around 15 minutes, then left,” CNN said in its tweet. “During this time, the cordon had been set back in place, so the team needed to climb over the fence at the centre to leave.”
As Thailand’s worst massacre, the attack drew widespread international media attention to the small town of Uthai Sawan in rural northeastern Thailand.