SUNDAY BRUNCH : Modern mouthpiece

Published on May 01, 2005

PM’s Office Minister Suranand Vejjajiva sees his new duty of overseeing the PRD as an opportunity to make the government’s news outlets more competitive

Following a five-year term as the Thai Rak Thai’s chief spokesman, Suranand Vejjajiva, 44, was recently made the PM’s Office Minister overseeing the Public Relations Department (PRD) and related state-owned media agencies, including Channel 11 and Radio Thailand.

While the portfolio is widely seen as a reward for Suranand’s unwavering political loyalty and often sharp-tongued rebuttal of government critics (especially those from the Opposition Democrat Party now headed by his cousin Abhisit Vejjajiva) he calls his latest Cabinet job an “opportunity” offered by the prime minister. Prior to joining the TRT, Suranand worked on the National Economic and Social Development Board (NESDB)’s macro-economic management team.

“After earning a master’s degree in international affairs from Columbia University, I returned to Thailand and worked at NESDB from 1985 to 1990 under the guidance of ex-NESDB chief Dr Snoh Unakul. Following that stint, I was planning to pursue a PhD programme. However, I changed my mind shortly afterward and decided to jump into the political arena instead,” he said.

In the meantime his cousin, Abhisit, now 41, went to Oxford University and earned a master’s degree in economics. Abhisit joined the Democrat Party soon after his education and spent the next decade and a half rising through the party ranks until recently becoming the party’s leader.

Abhisit’s father, Dr Atthasit, a prominent doctor, is a younger brother of Nissai Vejjajiva, a former career diplomat and Suranand’s father.

“In my new role, I’ll mainly focus on modernising the PRD, which marks its 72nd anniversary this month. A lot of restructuring work is necessary to keep the agency abreast of rapid changes in the mass media industry. If we see PRD as a brand in the market, it’s time for a major rebranding so as to stay competitive or else it will soon become irrelevant.

“In my opinion the PRD, Channel 11 and Radio Thailand should no longer be seen as the government’s propaganda outlets as in the past. They ought to be turned around to give the public access to all government services. This means we need two-way communication, feedback from audiences and other forms of public participation. Internally we need to champion changes in terms of organisational structure, working culture and people so that these units can stand up to fierce competition.

“I’m not surprised that the viewer rating of Channel 11, for instance, is currently the lowest in the industry. The quality of content will have to be greatly improved if we’re going to attract more viewers. Since it’s not going to be a commercial-oriented station, we look forward to seeing it becoming more like the BBC with an emphasis on high-quality news coverage, documentaries, or education, sports and public healthcare programmes etc.

“Given the digital-compression technology, we could also spin off into Channel 11/1, 11/2, 11/3 and so on up to 11/8 via cable-television distribution. This means there could be an education channel, a sports channel or a healthcare channel in the future to serve diverse interest groups,” Suranand says.

On his cousin Abhisit being the leader of the opposition Democrat Party, Suranand prefers to shrug the matter off.

“He’s three years my junior,” says Suranand. Since they hardly see eye to eye on the subject of politics, they can often be seen trading arguments on national issues in public.

For instance Abhisit recently said that the Thaksin government should exercise greater fiscal prudence by paying off the ballooning public debt resulting from the subsidising of oil prices if this year’s total revenues ended up being higher than projected.

Suranand says the idea is conservative and probably simplistic since more is at issue than a mere household budget.

“It’s far more complicated economically, socially and politically. The Thaksin administration’s fiscal management tends to be more progressive than what the opposition seems to stand for,” he said.

Nophakhun Limsamarnphun


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