PM’s ill-conceived threat to THAI PBS

opinion July 24, 2016 01:00

By The Nation

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Those sensitive to honest criticism need to remember, it is something that shadows anyone who has the top job and the power it entails

Here we go again with media bashing. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha lashed out at television station Thai PBS, the country’s first and only public television station, accusing its reporters of being too critical of his administration.

“Don’t forget where your funding comes from,” Prayut warned the station.

He said the station focused too much on his administration’s flaws. Well, Prime Minister, if they didn’t, they would be called a public relations agency, a role usually performed by civil servants working in all sorts of ministries and agencies.

If anybody needs to be reminded about where the funding comes from, it is these bureaucrats, and the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), as they came into power by force, not as a result of a mandate from the people.

Speaking during an annual meeting of the National Economic and Social Development Board, the prime minister insisted that the government had made much progress during its two years in power but most media outlets did not report it.

They make the government look inactive and incompetent, he claimed.

“No matter how many of its [Thai PBS] directors are replaced, it is still the same because their staff thinks the same way,” Prayut said.

He encouraged everyone to watch the state-run NBT channel to keep up to date on the government’s work. But he himself has described the NBT as “boring”.

Prayut’s frustrations are understandable. It is probably similar to the frustration that US Republican Party presidential candidate Donald Trump experiences when the American media portrays him as a bigot. While Trump threatened to sue such media or deny them entry to his campaign rallies, Prayut is threatening to cut state funding.

Prayut’s logic is simple but shallow. Thai PBS receives government funding and therefore it should not bite the hand that feeds it. That logic could work in an authoritarian state. Maybe many of us in the media have yet to, or refuse to, accept the idea that Thailand has become an authoritarian state. And so we continue to voice criticisms of the government’s performance.

True, the media can be unkind at times. But government leaders have the state apparatus and public relations machinery, not to mention an large budget to hire consultants and “spin doctors” to shape public opinion about them or at the least talk about their performance in a positive light.

As the old saying goes, if you can’t stand the heat, you should get out of the kitchen. Besides, nobody invited you into the kitchen in the first place.

It must be noted that the concerns raised by Thai PBS and other media outlets are legitimate. Our nation has arrived at a very important juncture and what happens in the next couple of weeks leading up to the referendum on the draft constitution will have a lasting impact on what kind of country Thailand will become.

This is not something to be taken lightly even though the current administration and their cronies are telling us to get over this hump, move on and change it later.

Well, “pass it now and change it later” was the sales pitch of the referendum on the 2007 Constitution; and look where that constitution got us.

This time around, the same sales pitch won’t work because an amendment to anything will be next to impossible given the kind of power the military will have in the scheme of things.

It’s the common Thai citizens who are the true owners of this country. It is with the taxes they pay that the entire government machinery operates. Therefore, the junta should be careful not to bite the hand that feeds them.