YESTERDAY marked the first year of "Returning Happiness to the People in the Country" - one of the country's best-known TV programmes.
For one thing, it is hosted by Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, who has a broad base of fans across the country. Secondly, the programme goes on air on all channels at 8.30pm, a time many people look forward to because that’s when Thai soap operas are broadcast on leading channels.
It is understandable that “Returning Happiness to the People” would receive huge feedback in social media, especially when some soap operas were reaching their climax.
Prayut seems to fully acknowledge the popularity of his weekly TV show. He has remarked a couple of times about reviewing its timing as well as its length. And once, he even ordered it to be broadcast at 5pm instead of 8pm. However, a couple of weeks later, it reverted back to 8.30pm.
Last week, the premier mumbled again about cutting the duration of the programme and moving it out of prime time. It uses up about an hour each week, pushing the soaps back to 9.30pm. The “happiness” intended by the prime minister actually became “unhappiness” for soap fans.
Prayut is well aware of this and even said he’d also seen the programme and was bored.
So, the powerful TV host recently said he would try to keep his monologue to under 30 minutes and if possible to change the broadcast time.
On the first anniversary of the programme, The Sunday Nation asked academics to share their thoughts. All of them implied that to return happiness to the people, he had to return them their TV.
They suggested that the alternatives for the government to actually return happiness to the people could include limiting the broadcast to only the state-run station.
“It was popular during the first few weeks, but since it’s been a year now, it has lost its appeal,” Sirote Klampaiboon, an independent scholar and TV host, said last week.
Forcing all channels to relay the programme could be considered as monopolising information, Sirote said. People are limited to only receiving news and information from the government when actually they could have been fed other content had the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) allowed the broadcast of something other than “Returning Happiness to the People in the Country”, he added.
The programme, which usually drags on for more than an hour, has impacted the TV industry, he said. The operators all paid a fortune to bid for a spot on the digital TV platform last year in the hope that they could create content and attract viewers. Undoubtedly, airtime was valuable, he said. The operators held the rights to exploit the resources they had paid for, but the programme hosted by the premier prevented them from doing so, he added.
Attasit Pankaew, a political science professor at Thammasat University, said he understood that as the leader of the country, the NCPO would need some channels to communicate with the people.
“It’s totally understandable that the NCPO or the military government has this TV programme. Especially when taking into account how they got into power, there is no doubt that their need to communicate or make themselves understood is high.”
Sukhum Nuansakul, a scholar, shared his personal experience of being interrupted by the programme when watching a ferocious boxing match. After about 40 minutes, normal programming resumed but he found the bout had already ended.
It was upsetting and he believed many had similar experiences. “The government should give people the choice and let them watch what they want,” he said.