New government spokesman of Thailand speaks of challenges ahead

Bangkok (The Nation/ANN) - In less than two years, the Yingluck Shinawatra government has replaced its spokesperson several times in a bid to shore up its image and better communicate with the public. The Nation's Pravit Rojanaphruk spoke to the recently appointed fourth government spokesman, Teerat Ratanasevi. Here are some excerpts:

Why does the government change its spokesperson so often?

I can't say, because I don't really know.

What are the challenges facing the spokesperson for Yingluck's government?

It's the information that must be presented to the public. We don't have data in our hands [at the Office of the government Spokesperson]. Sometimes [bureaucrats at various ministries] see us as political appointees and request information that can be difficult to find unless you know the minister.

Each ministry's spokesperson may also not have the data ready and may themselves be political appointees. Thus, the true facts are not always conveyed to the public. We're now in the process of setting up a system [to address the matter]. Some issues involve data that is spread between different agencies. For instance, bird-flu involves the Foreign and Agriculture ministries, the Immigration Office and other agencies.

The challenge now is how the Office of the government spokesperson can have information that matches the data held by other agencies.

What's your strategy for winning the trust of people who are not supporters of this administration and who are distrustful?

I will focus on presenting facts because the nuances hidden in language can lead to more political hatred. Retaliating to verbal abuse will only worsen the situation. We must accept criticism.

Given the deep political polarisation, is it necessary to speak to those who oppose the government or is it adequate to only communicate with supporters?

The government is not working for any particular political group. I am working for everybody in the country, so we must communicate with everyone. Whether they will believe us or not is another matter. The more we divide people, the less beneficial it will become. I have close friends who hold different political views, but we accept one another. We do not interfere with each other's beliefs because political preference is a personal right.

Yingluck is regarded by many of her opponents as merely a puppet of her older brother, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra. What are your views on this matter?

From the outside, the premier might look as if she's making compromises, but in reality she's very decisive and straightforward. She provides guidance and is professional in the decision-making process. This you won't see through the media. She's no puppet [of Thaksin] when it comes to administering the government. And she does a lot of homework.

How long do you expect to be in this position? Will you last longer than your predecessors?

I don't know how long I will last. I do not hope to become a minister or enter politics. I studied public relations in college and was a journalist, so I know that [TV] reporters do not want a 30-minute press conference in order to produce a 30-second report.

What's the government's weakness in terms of communication?

Many concur that we only see people criticising the government's policies, but there has been little communication on how these policies will improve people's lives. The media tends to be negative. We need pre-PR, present-PR and post-PR so there is no confusion or doubt among the public. The issue of the rice-pledging scheme is a good lesson.

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