BANGKOK — The government has ordered all television channels to promote the work of its ministers in an effort the head of its public relations division said was meant to take the focus off the prime minister.
Lt. Gen. Sansern Kaewkamnerd, the government spokesman who heads its Public Relations Department, said Thursday that he ordered each channel assigned to different ministers because he did not want the coverage to focus only on the prime minister.
“I didn’t force them. I let them choose freely but each channel must do differently,” he said after word got out and the effort was slammed as state-mandated propaganda. “Some channels even asked me to choose for them, but I didn’t because I know each channel has a different interest.”
The Thai Broadcast Journalists Association issued a statement Thursday insisting it is the media’s duty to serve the public interest and not do publicity for the government.
“The association is concerned that the actions of the director-general of the Government Public Relations Department threatens and interferes with the media,” the statement said.
Sansern defended the plan, saying he had only “asked for cooperation” from 14 channels to embed with each minister during the mobile cabinet meeting planned for next week in the northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima. He said he did not interfere with the direction of their content.
He did say it was true he asked them to send copies of their news packages for rebroadcast by government channel NBT.
“Each channel can report freely. I just want people who watch the government channel to know what the private media is covering,” he said. “We are just the intermediary to disseminate diverse views to the people.”
The scandal started after Sansern summoned representatives from several television channels on Wednesday. In the meeting, he asked them to follow every minister who will be on different missions in the northeast provinces Saturday through Tuesday.
Citing the limited resources of the government publicity agency, Sansern asked that the media cover all cabinet members lest it turn into a one-man show of Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha.
“In conclusion, I ask you to be my force. You don’t have to be embarrassed. You can use your own microphone with your logo,” Sansern was quoted saying by the Thai Journalists Association.
While objections were raised by some journalists, there were no formal objections raised by the agencies involved.
Representatives with two stations, Nation TV and Channel 8, could not be immediately reached for comment.
What really brought the matter to public attention was a document showing the list of assignments handed out to the relevant news agencies. It detailed in plain terms each channel’s assigned task.
For example, Thai PBS would follow the Social Development and Human Security minister on visits to people affected by flooding in Khon Kaen province.
Nation TV was assigned to report on the finance minister’s visit to a pioneer project intended to address problems associated with low-income private lending.
Channel 3 was go to report on water resource development in Nakhon Ratchasima and Buriram provinces by the Natural Resource and Environment minister.
Thairath TV is due to embed with the labor minister to cover workforce development in the industrial and service sectors in Udon Thani province.
NBT itself is tasked to follow three ministers, while its English section, NBT World, is to produce a scoop on an unspecified topic in English.