26th Aug 2010

Thai Media

For the last 4 weeks I’ve been on holiday in the Kingdom of Thailand – Land of Smiles, as the Thai tourism authorities like to call it. Actually, not every Thai smiles, all of the time, but customer service and general politeness are several notches up from what you find among us ruffian Brits.

As for Thai media, most channels of communication are relatively free from state interference – although there’s more official propaganda and less criticism of government policy than you would expect in western media. For example, all the main terrestrial TV channels play the national anthem in honour of the King at 6pm prompt every day – and the King is similarly honoured before the start of a movie in the nation’s cinemas. Strict laws effectively prevent criticism of the Royal Family, and most channels are sympathetic to the ruling political powers that be.

Some of you may recall how Bangkok hit the headlines just a few months ago, when opponents of the present government – known as the ’red shirts’ - stormed the central business district of the city in their attempts to bring down the Prime Minister. The situation is now relatively calm, but I saw some of the damage that was inflicted during the main hostilities – notably, a recently-built mega shopping mall called ZEN that is currently undergoing major refurbishment after most of its upper floors were entirely burnt out in a petrol-bomb-fuelled arson attack. The BBC provided extensive coverage of last April’s troubles – but Thai TV coverage was more cautious, keen not to provide a platform for the promotion of dissidents.

The Thai newspapers are the main ‘critical’ media – and the main English-language paper, The Bangkok Post, has proved an important external news source throughout the 64 years of its existence. Founded by an American army general, The Post is both a product and a producer of western influence on Thai society.

Americanisation (or should I say, Americanization) is certainly a word that applies to Thailand – after Buddhism, consumerism is the second great religion practised by Bangkokians. However, neither of the two main televised sports in Thailand are American in origin – Muay Thai, aka Thai kick boxing, and football (association football, that is). The EPL (English Premier League) is the most popular, with the usual suspects (Man Utd, Arsenal, Liverpool, Chelsea) dominating the ‘fan share’, but recently the country has begun its own football league – with foreign imports like Bryan Robson coming in to coach. And every sunday a live game is broadcast on one of the main free-to-air channels.

As this screen-shot shows, advertising plays a highly-visible role in the viewing experience. Unfortunately, commercial breaks are obtrusively cut-in during the game, at ‘breaks in play’, but as should be obvious to producers/advertisers alike, football is not a sport with time-outs, drinks breaks, rain delays, etc. What makes football special, unlike most other sports, is its continuity-of-play. Interrupting the action is simply a bad idea - but I suppose, given the American consumer logic that prevades all Thai media and culture, obtrusive ads will always be favoured (should I say, favored) over lost money-making opportunities.

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