Thailand’s latest political crisis is ratings gold for its many partisan TV stations

November 14, 2013
November 14, 2013

Thailand is mired in political chaos as the government slugs it out with the opposition over a controversial amnesty bill. Thousands of protesters have poured into Bangkok’s streets, traffic has worsened, workers are leaving their offices to join rallies, and the tension has raised concerns about damage to the country’s important tourism sector.

But there’s one group you won’t hear complaining: Thailand’s partisan TV stations. Blue Sky Channel, which supports the opposition Democrat party and provides live broadcasts of anti-government rallies, moved up this month in ratings to eighth place from 22nd, the Bangkok Post reports. Meanwhile, the pro-ruling party Asia Update channel rose one slot to seventh.

Thailand is broadly divided between the rural “red shirt” voters who support Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra and her brother, exiled former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, and the mainly urban “yellow shirt” voters, many of whom come from elite or middle classes. But there are a baffling number of factions and gradations within the complex political system. Accordingly, Thailand has 11 politically partisan satellite TV channels in addition to several state-owned networks and not one but two terrestrial channels owned by the powerful Royal Thai Army, which deposed Thaksin in a 2006 coup.The latest bout of unrest was triggered by an attempt by the government to push through a sweeping amnesty bill that would have helped lay a path for Thaksin’s return.

“The political situation is similar to the massive yellow-shirt protests in 2008, which led a boom in satellite TVs in addition to the existing six free TV channels,” Worasit Lee, managing director of the rating system company, told the Bangkok Post. Of course, those protests led to the seizure of Bangkok’s international airport, which stranded thousands of tourists, and were followed two years later by additional, protracted rallies that involved demonstrators dumping blood on government buildings and culminated in a military crackdown that killed more than 80 people.

Political chaos may be bad for the country. But it sure can make for good TV.

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