Opinion

What does ongoing political turmoil mean for Thailand’s media scene?

Thai flagsThailand, Southeast Asia’s second largest economy, is on a political knife-edge. But how are the seemingly endless protests on the streets of Bangkok affecting the kingdom’s media industry?

Mumbrella’s Asia editor Robin Hicks was in Bangkok today, just before the elections on 2 February, to interview Wannee Ruttanaphon, the boss of IPG Mediabrands’ Thai operation and chairman of industry body the Media Agency Association of Thailand.

Wannee Ruttanaphon

Wannee Ruttanaphon

You recently predicted that Thailand’s media industry will only grow by between three and five per cent this year because of a sluggish economy. What do you predict that figure would be if you factor in the impact of continued political unrest?

The impact will only be short term, if the political situation settles down. If it doesn’t, then client spend will not increase by much this year.

Political upheaval is not uncommon in Thailand (Thailand has experienced more military coups than any country in contemporary history). Isn’t there a sense of business as usual despite the ongoing street protests?

When there is a coup in Thailand, the people go out and take photos and give the army roses; coups are welcome to get rid of bad political leaders. But of course current events will affect business, as Thais are less willing to spend, because of the ongoing sense of political uncertainty.

Which areas of Bangkok are affected by a shortfall in sales because of the protests?

Only a few locations, such as Victory monument, which is a middle class area. But other areas will not have much of an impact, because they’re not high-traffic shopping areas.

How much has the political unrest affected media spend among your clients?

I would say spend is down by about 50 per cent – both among local and international clients.

How has the political unrest affected IPG Mediabrands as an agency?

Ironically, the current situation is not a problem for tourists, because Bangkok is a lot quieter, particularly since it is Chinese New Year, and there’s less traffic. For us, as an agency, we haven’t been affected much at all. IPG’s global CEO called me to ask how things were, because he was worried. But we still come into work without any problem because we know the protest areas to avoid.

Are the international media accurate in their assessment of the current political climate in Thailand and the affect it will have on business?

No. Not in the sense that they write about the election [to be held on 2 February] as a way out. The election will not help us to pull through the Thaksinomic [a term used to refer to the economic policies of Thaksin Shinawatra, Thailand’s Prime Minister from 2001-2006] situation. The government [currently run by Thaksin’s sister Yingluck, who takes advice from her brother, who is in exile in Dubai] is so corrupt, plundering our natural resources and ruining the price of goods, and looking to whitewash itself so that it can steal yet more money from the people. Only once we’re rid of them, can we get back on the right track, and businesses can too. 

How long do you think the situation will continue for?

As long as it takes the counter-corruption agency to unravel the rice subsidy scheme issue [Thailand is the world’s largest rice exporter]. If the agency finds that the accusations levied against the government are correct, and they have enough proof, and Yingluck [Thaksin] is charged with fraud, then the government will have to go. Then she will probably have to flee the country and go and live with her brother in Dubai.

What affect do you think the current political climate will have on Brand Thailand and the tourism industry?

As I mentioned, the impact will only be short term. If we can reform the political situation, then things will improve and Thailand’s country brand will be restored to what it was. But we have a painful period of time that we must endure to clean up the political system and get rid of our bad leaders.

When Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, the tourism department continued to promote the Philippines as a tourism destination overseas. What do you think the Tourism Authority of Thailand should do in the current situation?

I think they should stop advertising, in the short term, because it’s not appropriate to be selling Thailand as a tourist destination at the moment.

Have any brands dared to use the political climate to their advantage as a tactical advertising idea?

No. There’s been none of that, for obvious reasons. If a brand was seen to take sides, then the other side of the political divide would  boycott it.

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