Advertisers on Nation TV have sworn by their political neutrality after their brands became targets of “cancel culture” by Thai Twitter users.
Cancel culture refers to the practice of withdrawing support for public figures and companies that do or say things considered objectionable. Name-and-shame campaigns can spread within hours and do substantial damage to an individual or brand.
In this case, it started with a lapse of professional ethics by a journalist assigned by the pro-establishment TV station to cover the youth-led rally for political change at Democracy Monument on Ratchadamnoen Avenue last Sunday.
When she asked a demonstrator for an interview, the suspicious protester asked: “What news outlet are you from?”
Fearing she would be turned down given the pro-democracy tone of the demonstration, she lied, saying she came from a little-known news outlet.
The interview showed up later that day on the TV station of the well-known media group to the surprise, and then rage, of the interviewee who refused to keep quiet.
Criticism quickly took hold online, and within hours a hashtag #แบนเนชั่น calling for a boycott of the media group went viral.
The campaigners quickly refined their focus beyond urging people not to read or watch Nation news coverage. They decided to hit the company where it hurt most, with a new hashtag #แบนสปอนเซอร์เนชั่น urging people not to buy products from companies advertising with the group.
Lists of the advertisers’ names have been widely shared, prompting the companies to take a defensive stance. They range from some brands of consumer products giants Unilever and Osotspa, the food and retail conglomerate CP Group, Central Group, as well as Muang Thai Life and the delivery service provider Foodpanda, which announced on Saturday it had decided to “suspend” all ads on the TV station.
The companies on the list have since issued statements denying involvement with the TV station and insisted they are politically neutral. But only insurer Muang Thai Life said it would stop advertising with the group.
Some Twitter users even called on their parent companies abroad to “acknowledge their Thailand branch is supporting dictatorship” by mentioning them in their tweets.
The management of Nation Multimedia Group (NMG), admitted in a statement on Wednesday that its reporter did not reveal the identity of her employer. However, it claimed its reporters have in the past been intimidated, verbally abused and pressured by protesters at several rallies.
“We insist no part of the news reported by her is distorted or untruthful. The whole issue is an attempt to create an online trend by those with opposing political views,” the statement said.
The group said it had always reported only facts and given all people a chance to tell their sides of stories. It urged people not to use brands as a tool to attack it, as it unfairly affected the products and the companies that marketed them.
It also said that a lot of the information about the Nation Group now circulating online is distorted, and that hate speech is being used to divide society. It threatened to take legal action against people seeking to harm the company.
Watanya Wongopasi, a list MP of the governing Palang Pracharath Party, is a former director of a company that engineered the bitterly contested takeover of SET-listed NMG in 2015. She has divested her holdings and her husband, Chai Bunnag, now serves as CEO of NMG.