Thai army seeks hearts and minds with smiles, stickers and selfies


A soldier smiles awkwardly as a woman hands him a flower and kisses his cheek. Farmers hold signs praising Thailand’s military and a song plays out on radio stations urging love, peace and unity.

This is a slice of the daily staple of propaganda from a junta determined to win hearts and minds and reassure Thais their country is in safe hands, on the road to recovery a week after a coup it said it staged to prevent a descent into chaos.

The National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), as the junta is formally known, has been mixing soft power with rigorous security and censorship, asserting its influence over the airwaves while gagging independent media and warning the press against negative coverage of the armed forces.

Terrestrial television has been dominated by light-hearted images of a supportive public donating snacks to troops and posing with them for “selfie” photos. Recruitment advertisements for a mighty army have been ramped up, sandwiched between commercials for car batteries and fertilizer.

Soap operas are filling a void left by now-banned debates on current affairs and the NCPO has its striped logo displayed in the corner of the screen.

The various channels air synchronized broadcasts that explain the putsch, showing prominent supporters of the ousted government smiling and seemingly well treated in detention.

“The military is using television to maintain and show its control but I can’t see it staying like this for too long. It’s too rigid and will have to change,” said a professor at a Bangkok university, who asked to remain nameless as the junta had summoned some academics after they spoke to journalists.

“Media professionals aren’t used to this and won’t allow it to continue indefinitely. I know they’re not happy at all.”

Coup leader Prayuth Chan-ocha has promised broad and vague social, economic and political reforms but no timeframe for a return to democracy.