March 23, 2017

Hmong: Newspapers Apologise after Falsely Accusing Two Girls of Theft

Photo courtesy of Chaiyot Yongcharoenchai

The British newspaper the Sun as well as the Australian Daily Mail apologized [21 March 2017] after falsely accusing two Hmong girls of theft. The accusation was based on one individual photograph, which showed a British woman holding hands with two children in Hmong dresses, one of whom was apparently fiddling with the tourist’s watch. The caption of the photograph, which was posted on Reddit.com, read “Girlfriend in the progress of having her watch stolen.” This case is a clear-cut example of prejudice and stereotype against minorities, often fueled by media sensationalism. Recently, Hmong living in various communities have experienced prejudice in one form or another, sometimes with fatal consequences


Below is an article published by The Bangkok Post:

CHIANG MAI - Two international media outlets have apologised to two Hmong hilltribe girls for reports wrongly accusing them of being caught on camera stealing a British tourist’s watch at Doi Suthep temple several months ago.

The Sun of Britain and Daily Mail Australia sent letters of apology to the parents of hilltribe sisters, Dokmai, 10, and her younger sister Gaolhee, 7.

Chiang Mai governor Pawin Chamniprasart, Ben Robert Svasti, the British honorary consul in Chiang Mai, and Chiang Mai’s Muang district chief Saranyu Meethongkham handed the letters to the girls’ parents at the provincial hall on Tuesday.

In September last year, four major British media outlets - The SunDaily Mail AustraliaThe Telegraph and Daily Express - ran news stories accusing the two tribal girls of stealing a watch from a British woman. The story was picked up by Thai media.

The allegation was based on a single photo posted on Reddit.com, which showed the grinning woman tourist holding hands with two children in Hmong dress. The seven-year-old girl pictured on the right appeared to be fiddling with the tourist's watch. The caption said, "Girlfriend in the progress of having her watch stolen".

The story of the "tiny thieves", as the girls were later labelled, was picked up and sensationalised by several media outlets.

The girls and their parents were hurt by the reports. As a sad aftermath, the girls were asked not to go back to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep, where they usually earned their parents extra income by posing with tourists.

In October, the Hmong girls were finally cleared after the woman tourist herself announced she had found her missing watch elsewhere. 

The governor said the stories affected the family of the girls and the country's image. He ordered an inquiry which concluded the allegation was groundless.  International media outlets that ran the stories later sent letters of apology to the family of the girls, said Mr Pawin. The girls were also allowed to return to the temple and continue as usual.

Mr Svasti said the governor had coordinated with the British embassy as the false allegation had affected the rights of the children. As the Chiang Mai-based honorary consul he had visited the girls’ parents. The parents did not want to file a complaint against those accusing their children, but they did want the media to correct the reports.

Executives of The Sun in Britain and Daily Mail Australia edition later sent letters of apology to the girls' parents and the Hmong community, the honorary consul said.