No, an American reporter did not interview Prayuth

American photojournalist Matt Hunt sits beside Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in a photo he tweeted from a March 14 press event. Photo: Matt Hunt / Twitter
American photojournalist Matt Hunt sits beside Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in a photo he tweeted from a March 14 press event. Photo: Matt Hunt / Twitter

A spokesperson for the prime minister today refuted an American reporter’s claim to have conducted an exclusive interview with Prayuth Chan-ocha.

One week after photojournalist Matt Hunt’s announcement he had interviewed Prayuth raised many digital eyebrows, a representative from the PM’s office said today that the prime minister had conducted no interviews in his brief appearance at a media photo op promoting a new Nok Air connection. 

“No interview took place that day,” the official told Coconuts. “The Nok Air staff had taken pictures with the Prime Minister, and then after some time, invited press to take photos.”

“No official interview occurred,” he reiterated on condition his name not be used because the office considered it a trivial matter.

Coconuts sent multiple messages seeking comment from Hunt but had not received any response by publication time. He responded after its publication to dismiss it as “sensationalized gossip.”

Hunt’s claim to have interviewed Prayuth, announced March 14 to his nearly 30,000 Twitter followers, was met almost immediately with skepticism. 

“When will the interview be published and broadcast?” former Reuters journalist turned digital gadfly Andrew MacGregor Marshall wrote an hour after Hunt tweeted.

“When I made this assignment, I thought it couldn’t work,” Hunt wrote. “I was told repeatedly that the PM refuses interviews w/ foreign media (hasn’t for years), security would be too tight, he would avoid my questions, etc.”

It didn’t help that Hunt aggravated his unlikely claim by patronizing other correspondents working in the kingdom.

“A note to foreign media in Thailand: keep pushing 🙏,” he ended the tweet.

That weird flex came with a selfie showing Hunt seated on an airplane alongside Prayuth, who was either not particularly thrilled to be there or just showing his Resting Tu Face.

On March 14, Hunt was attending a event with other media aboard a Nok Air flight connecting Don Mueang Airport to the newly opened Betong International Airport. His tweets that morning showed he had been part of a routine media pool promoting the new air link.

“Good morning from Don Mueang Airport (DMK),” his first tweet that day read. “This morning I’m flying with the Prime Minister on Nok Air flight DD6261, the long-awaited inaugural trip from Bangkok to Betong International Airport (BTZ) This is the first of 3 flights scheduled this week.”

Doubts grew as days passed without the alleged interview appearing in any form, with many asking in replies to subsequent tweets from Hunt when his interview would be published.

By Sunday night, the episode had become a running gag on Twitter with a growing list of people blocked by Hunt after inquiring about the story. 

“Where is the interview to be found? Or did you avoid his answers while he was avoiding your questions?” Daniel_grenat tweeted Sunday.

“It is going to be a masterpiece as it has been 6 days since it was announced. Can’t wait, @KT_oficjalnie tweeted.

VoiceTV anchor Teerat Ratanasevi also called him out. “What did he talk to you?” he said in a tweet which garnered no response from Hunt.

By then Marshall, whose commentary can run caustic and personal, had dropped the pretense innocent curiosity.

“Hi @WritingByMatt, you recently claimed you had an exclusive interview with Prayut Chan-ocha and told other foreign journalists to ‘keep pushing’. We all know you lied. Are you going to own your mistake and apologise or continue embarrassing yourself indefinitely?”  he tweeted last night.

In a series of messages sent after this story was published, Hunt declined to answer eight times whether he had conducted an interview with Prayuth or not. 

He denied that he was aboard the plane for a media event, despite the prime minister’s office confirming that is where Prayuth greeted him and other reporters.

He said that he could explain what happened and then accused Coconuts of publishing “sensationalized gossip” and said he never promised “any interview.” 

“But should I explain something to someone that is publishing sensationalized gossip or should I instead focus forward on what I have and what I need to do to keep doing it?” he wrote. “That’s the question. Point me to where I promised an exclusive interivew [sic], in either case. I’ll wait.”

Reminded of his original tweet and asked if he thought it didn’t say that, he declined to answer.

“Does it say that? It’s what you reported, not me … amongst other lies,” Hunt wrote. “Or maybe it’s just [a] lack of information on your part.”

Hunt was a contributor to the defunct Thisrupt, and his bio indicates that he provides photos to Getty Images (Creative) and SOPA Images (Editorial).

Prayuth’s last interview with a foreign national that could be found was on the sidelines of the 2019 U.N. General Assembly in New York, when he sat down with Tom Nagorski, executive vice president of the Asia Society. When he spoke at the venue, he was heckled by Thai protesters who greeted him with “Hey, Mr. Dictator!”

Update: This story has been updated with a response from Hunt.

Additional writing and reporting Todd Ruiz

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