Thailand – tangled web for public relations?

The Center for Media and Democracy reports a story that the government in Thailand intends to employ a US public relations company for a three-month campaign to improve its poor image.

Thailand has some strong positive imagery as a tourist destination, and has benefited from economic investment.  However, the has concerns about abuses condoned by the government which took over in a military coup last year. 

In managing the reputation of a country, the policies of the government are essential – as the  highlights:

“In the case of a country, it’s what the national policies are, what the leaders say, who they visit, what they say when they’re there. It’s also reflected in things like the country’s transportation system and where the money is invested. You may think of these as policy decisions, but they’re really branding decisions.

The decision to invest in public relations is in response to rhetoric from “USA for Innovation,” which accuses Thailand of  stealing American technology and increasing military spending instead of paying for patent drugs.

Thailand has incurred the ire of the major drug companies by invoking an international agreement, allowing poorer countries to apply for compulsory licences allowing them to make or import generic versions of patented drugs for public health programmes, upon paying the patent holder a fee. The reports US pharmaceutical giant has decided not to sell drugs in the country as a result.

is the man behind USA for Innovation and his recent  article against Thailand is pure propaganda.  Adelman is also a senior counselor at Public Relations Worldwide, which represents the controversial former premier of Thailand, and Abbott Laboratories.

The neocon, Adelman, was reported by as supporting “the idea of a tough foreign policy on behalf of morality, the idea of using our power for moral good in the world”.

His wife, Carol is Director of the Center for Global Prosperity at the policy research organisation, the Hudson Institute.  She supports US corporations’ “soft heart, hard head” involvement in developing world projects.  The cites a study she undertook that documented the value of donations by the drug industry “to some of Earth’s most desperate people.”  The rhetoric in that article concludes:

The simple fact is that without the drug companies’ ten-figure philanthropy, millions of destitute Africans, Asians, and Latin Americans would spend this Christmas Day face-down in the dirt.

has become embroiled in the battle of words.  Early in April, the Thai government blocked access to the site in reaction to videos mocking the King.  Last week, Ken Adelman published a video from USA for Innovation there to send “a message to the people of Thailand regarding the importance of innovation and concerns about the Thai Government’s recent endorsement of theft of American intellectual property.”

One of the problems of a rhetorical approach to public relations is that although a variety of positions may be expressed, it is hard for the public to be able to make an informed decision from assessing the arguments.

In this case, the choice seems to be between a deeply unpleasant government and the disturbing corporate might of Big Pharma.  Assessing the strengths or validity of their arguments is tied up with a lot more than current rhetoric.  In fact, I am reminded of Sir Walter Scott’s stanza:

Oh what a tangled web we weave,
When first we practise to deceive!

Except with public relations and rhetoric, there seems to be some deliberate weaving and web tangling that makes it very hard for the public to recognise whether and how they are being deceived.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

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