11 July 2024

The prime minister is set to make his debut as a TV host in a show called “Talk with Srettha” this Saturday (June 22) – 10 months after he assumed office in late August.

However, Srettha Thavisin is far from the first Thai leader to address the nation in their own television show – a tradition the media has termed “the prime minister meets the people”.

All but one of Srettha’s predecessors over the past two decades have adopted weekly television programs as a way of updating the public on their achievements, ongoing efforts, and plans for the future.

Only Somchai Wongsawat, whose 75 days in power from September to December 2008 were marked by anti-government protests that occupied Government House, failed to get his own show.

While these programs are typically promoted as a direct channel of communication between the PM and the public, critics have described them as government propaganda and “one-sided talk shows”.

Lights, camera … Thaksin! 

Thaksin Shinawatra – who served from February 2001 to September 2006 as Thailand’s 23rd prime minister – launched the tradition in April 2001 with his “PM Thaksin Talks with the People” weekly address. The 30-minute program was broadcast every Saturday morning on state-run NBT radio stations.

In his debut episode on April 28, 2001, Thaksin explained that the weekly address aimed to inform the public about what his government was doing in the hope of gaining their support when problems arose.

“Our country is facing big problems. If Thais have a strong understanding of the problems and we work together to tackle them, I am certain that together we can overcome any obstacle,” he told his audience.

Thaksin declared his three-month-old government’s “first mission” was to fight poverty, pointing to low prices for farm produce, economic recession, and illicit drugs.

Altogether, Thaksin racked up about 200 weekly radio addresses, the final one airing on August 19, 2006, just one month before his Thai Rak Thai government was ousted by a military coup.

General Surayud Chulalont, who came to power after the September 2006 putsch, appeared to be inspired by Thaksin’s popular weekly address. Surayud came up with his own program called “Direct Line to Government House”, which first aired on NBT on May 12, 2007. NBT is the state-owned government mouthpiece, run by the Department of Public Relations.

Samak the smooth-talker

Two years later, Thaksin’s proxy PM Samak Sundaravej kept the tradition rolling with his “Samak-Style Conversation” on NBT. The first episode went out on February 10, 2008, just two weeks after Samak assumed office following victory in the election for his People Power Party.

An eloquent speaker, the late Samak talked solo throughout his one-hour program broadcast every Sunday. He reported on his government’s efforts and achievements while also taking the opportunity to attack his critics and discredit anti-government protesters.

Abhisit Vejjajiva followed suit in 2009, kicking off “Confidence in Thailand with PM Abhisit” on January 18, one month after becoming premier. Unlike his predecessors, the charismatic Democrat leader invited guests to appear with him in his weekly one-hour program. The long guestlist included media celebrities, academics, politicians, and movie stars.

The last episode of Abhisit’s Sunday show was broadcast on May 1, 2011, just days before he dissolved the House of Representatives on May 10. The finale saw over 100 guests from previous episodes chatting with the outgoing prime minister about his government’s work and performance.

Thaksin’s sister Yingluck Shinawatra launched her program, “Yingluck’s Government Meets the People”, on October 1, 2011, less than two months after assuming office on August 5.

The weekly show, broadcast every Saturday morning on NBT, featured the prime minister and her Cabinet members being interviewed by media celebrities about the government’s projects and performance. The final episode aired on December 7, 2013, two days before Yingluck dissolved the House of Representatives and called a general election on February 2.

General Prayut Chan-o-cha carried on the tradition with “Returning Happiness to the People”, which he launched on May 31, 2014, just a week after leading the military coup that ousted Yingluck’s government. In the first episode, Prayut addressed the nation in military uniform as Army chief and head of the junta National Council for Peace and Order.

In October 2016, the program was renamed “From Royal Wisdom to Sustainable Development” and focused on the post-coup government’s projects inspired by the King’s principle of “stability, wealth, and sustainability”.

The program was broadcast every Friday night via the Television Pool of Thailand. However, its low viewership led critics to joke that primetime was ideal for energy-saving purposes.

Stay tuned for monthly updates

Unlike its predecessors, Srettha’s 30-minute program will air just once a month, every third Saturday on NBT.

The show will recap the PM’s key activities and visits, both in Thailand and abroad, and inform the public about the government’s work and progress, according to Prime Minister’s Office Minister Jiraporn Sindhuprai. She said mobile broadcasts were also planned during the PM’s trips to offer real-time updates and insights.

The pre-recorded inaugural episode is hosted by former government spokesman Teerat Ratanasevi, while media celebrities such as news anchor Arisara Kamthorncharoen and presenter Puwanart Kunpalin are among those slated to host future episodes.

By Thai PBS World’s Political Desk