BANGKOK, July 16 Thai food conglomerate Charoen Pokphand Foods PCL (CPF) denied on Wednesday bribing journalists to promote its products and image after an independent media watchdog said it had a document that shows an unnamed food firm had engaged in such practices.
The watchdog, Thailand Information Centre for Civil Rights and Investigative Journalism (TCIJ), said on its website this week that a "large, national level food conglomerate that operates domestically and internationally" had allocated senior reporters and editors payments ranging between $310 and $7,800 a month to write favourable reports about the company.
The report said the head of the company was a "well-known figure, ranked one of the richest men in the world". It said it had based its findings on a document it had obtained from a person at an agribusiness firm.
The allegations were widely distributed on social media in Thailand, with many bloggers saying the report raised concerns about corruption in the Southeast Asian country, where bestowing lavish gifts on corporate clients is common practice.
While the TCIJ report did not specifically name CPF, there are very few companies in Thailand that fit the description in the report. CPF is Thailand's largest meat and animal feed producer and the flagship unit of Charoen Pokphand Group, which is owned by Thailand's richest man Dhanin Chearvanont.
In a statement, Punninee Nanthapanich, senior vice-president of CPF, said the document the TCIJ was citing was an adulterated report from its public relations department.
"Charoen Pokphand Group (CPF) clarifies that payments to the media were normal advertising payments made by our public relations department," Punninee said in the statement.
"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."
TCIJ published excerpts of the document, which its director Suchada Jakpisut said was more than 1,000 pages long, that showed a list of blacked-out names under a heading "journalists" with various monetary amounts beside each name.
Another section lists the names of several media outlets.
TCIJ did not respond to a Reuters request to see the whole document.
"Payments and gifts are a big problem and it doesn't just concern the media. If the big newspapers and others take money from big corporations how can they be neutral," TCIJ director Suchada told Reuters.
Thailand's military took power in a May coup after months of street protests aimed at ousting the government. It has since imposed restrictions on media in Thailand, which ranked 130 out of 180 countries on the 2014 World Press Freedom Index.
($1 = 32.1500 Thai Baht) (Editing by Miral Fahmy)