Some time ago the Thai government announced its intention to despatch a public relations team “aimed at informing people in other countries of the political situation in Thailand after the coup.” The Nation reported on this “PR mission” in April 2007:
PM’s Office Minister Theerapat Serirangsan … who chairs a special panel on public relations in times of crisis, said the group will head to Germany and the UK to talk at a series of seminars they have been invited to. … The group will then head off on a similar mission to Australia and New Zealand and maybe Japan, depending on when they use up the Bt2.5-million allocated. A domestic PR campaign to quell political unrest caused by mobsters and political groups was being mapped out.
Earlier this year New Mandala reported on the event in London. Now it’s Australia’s turn and guess who is hosting the visit to Canberra – The Australian National University’s National Thai Studies Centre! Today I received this invitation by email from the Thai Embassy (not the NTSC) in Canberra:
His Excellency Mr. Bandhit Sotipalalit is pleased to invite you to attend an exclusive talks [sic] on the current political situatution [sic] in Thailand leading up to the general election. The talks will be led by the Deputy Secretary to the Prime Minister of Thailand and other leading academics from Thailand, on Wednesday 22 August 2007 at 10.30-12.00 hrs. at ANU (details as file attached). We are looking forward to see you on that day.
The fact that this is being hosted by the National Thai Studies Centre came as something of a surprise. I am a board member of the NTSC (not for much longer!) and this has never been raised with me or my fellow members. I am very much in favour of the ANU providing a platform for the presentation of a diverse range of views. But this is something altogether different. This is lending the international academic creditibility of the ANU to an official public relations exercise aimed at justifying the coup and discrediting the Thaksin government. Note that the invitation sports both the logo of the National Thai Studies Centre and the Thai Embassy. This represents a most undesirable collaboration between international academia and the Thai government’s PR machine.
The session is clearly being held at the ANU to help lend it some credibility. PR comes across better when it has an academic tinge. There is no logistical reason why the function could not have been held at the Thai Embasssy. That is the appropriate location for “exclusive” (and by invitation) government PR events.
NTSC should withdraw its collaboration.