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Scepticism over interior's climb onto the TV bandwagon

The Interior Ministry's latest decision to introduce its own cable-television channel - dubbed 'blue-shirt television' by the media for its close association with Bhum Jai Thai Party kingmaker Newin Chidchob - will further exacerbate the already tense political situation and is a reminder of how the government still thinks crude propaganda works.

The ministry, now controlled by the party, insists it will run documentaries to protect the monarchy along with other serious content reflecting the political stance of the ministry (if not the party momentarily in control of the all-powerful ministry). But there will also be game shows and other light entertainment. 

One must ask why there is such a need now and whether such a need warrants creating a new TV channel.

Matichon group newspapers on Tuesday cited a source at the ministry as saying the true aim of the new channel was winning political converts - from the yellow-shirt People's Alliance for Democracy, and especially from the red-shirt Democratic Alliance against Dictatorship - from viewers of the current two channels, numbering a combined 5 million households nationwide, who subscribe to ASTV and DTV. Those at the ministry are gullible enough to think there will be no negative, unintended repercussions.

It seems these people still believe repeated political propaganda works and that recipients of messages accept the text as it is. Wrong! People in fact react to the same message or propaganda differently.

Do they really think that by repeatedly telling red shirts that Thaksin Shinawatra is a corrupt politician 10 times a day on the new blue-shirt channel will convince them? It will likely outrage them instead.

This is because people do not memorise messages that are sent to them. If so, the generals' ongoing reassurances that there will be "no coup" would have worked by now, and the police would not need to hunt down those spreading the rumours as if they were criminals.

The fact is, people tend to interpret and react - rightly or wrongly - based on their beliefs and assumptions. The new channel will therefore mainly enable the yellow shirts and red shirts to use it as justification supporting their belief the government is out to propagandise them - which is correct, by the way.

And since when is it the ministry's job to run a television channel? Matichon reported the ministry would mobilise tambon administrative organisations and provincial administrative organisations nationwide to watch the channel.

Since the May 1992 uprising, people should have learnt the state must have less and less control over mass media, since it will abuse it for political gain.

The military and the Prime Minister's Office already control media they propose to eventually give up, but show no sign of doing so. Now the Interior Ministry wants a propaganda channel, too. Such is the regressive state of Thai democracy.

Former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra's control of iTV was harshly criticised and rightly so, as anti-government content hardly made its way to broadcast. Why repeat the same mistake?

Newin, the man said to be behind the channel, has no history of being a royalist. But since breaking away from Thaksin in late 2008, he has behaved as if he has always been an ultra-royalist - last December organising a 4-D light-and-sound show praising His Majesty as "The Greatest of the Kings".

One would do well to be mindful about these people who can change colour quicker than the drop of a hat.