Watchdog ‘should okay campaigns’
A new law to control state advertising and public relations spending is needed to prevent political office-holders from employing media to promote themselves, its backers say.
Dueanden Nikhomborirak, a researcher with Thailand Development Research Institute, says the content of state advertising should be subject to stricter controls to avoid the possibility of state agencies spending the money to promote their own interests.
This included the possibility of politicians who run ministries taking over their advertising to boast about the work they are doing. Such campaigns could help promote the politicians personally rather than serving the public.
The government can still buy air time on TV and radio or space in newspapers, but the purchases must be done in a transparent way, she said.
Authorities must ensure advertisements are really needed for their work and be prepared to face scrutiny from an independent watchdog before the campaigns go to air.
Above all, Ms Dueanden added, they should be able to explain the need for such advertising.
“I suggest the OAG be the law enforcer,” she said, calling for a law to let the Office of Auditor-General have the final say on whether the spending should go ahead.
The OAG could reject a budget request if advertisements are not in line with the laws, which would force state agencies to put more thought into whether the ads were really in the public interest.
Though the government spends less money than the private sector on advertising, the total amount is still considered large.
Last year the state sector spent 7.9 billion baht on public relations with half of that going to TV ads, according to Ms Dueanden’s study.
The rest of the money was used for ads at cinemas (18%) and newspapers (16%).
Among the top spenders, mostly state enterprises, are state banks, the Electricity Generating Authority of Thailand, Thai Airways International, Tourism Authority of Thailand, PTT Plc, which oversees national energy and MCOT Plc.
These organisations spent about 3.7 billion baht, which was nearly half the state advertising budget last year.
The rest of the budget was allocated to other state agencies including the Office of the Permanent Secretary under the Prime Minister’s Office, Industry Ministry and the Internal Security Operations Command.
In several cases, the money went improperly to the pockets of advertising firms or PR agencies which have links with politicians, she said.
During the presentation of her study yesterday, Ms Dueanden also discussed situations in which media agencies can face interference by state authorities. Certain media channels, particularly TV and radio, are owned by the government or run under state concessions. They are most liable to interference, she said.
The government has least influence on newspapers because it does not own this type of media, though it can still buy space in papers for ads.
First published: Bangkok Post, December 2, 2014