Thai food giant pays journalists to boost public image, claims report

BANGKOK - A Thai food giant has been paying journalists to boost its public image, a report has said.

The report, which claims that journalists received monthly payments from the food company, was uploaded on the Thailand Information Centre For Civil Rights and Investigative Journalism (TCIJ) website on Monday morning, Bangkok Post reported.

The released report claimed the company closely monitored social media and paid several social media websites to make sure negative news or comments about the company were deleted or did not appear.

Although the firm was not named by TCIJ, Charoen Pokphand Foods Plc (CPF) later admitted the report referred to its public relations unit but said the report had been doctored and distorted.

TCIJ director Suchada Jakpisut said the centre obtained the report late last year and had already verified the documents with many sources. She did not say who compiled the report.

Among those allegedly receiving monthly payments were 18 media organisations and officials on radio, TV and print media, according to Bangkok Post.

The payments ranged between 10,000 baht and 250,000 baht (S$386-S$9,650) per month, it said, adding that an unnamed organisation or individual received more than 7.7 million baht.

From the report, the TCIJ discovered that the company had developed a well-planned strategy of approaching and maintaining special ties with media representatives.

People from the firm would visit senior TV officials to obtain "explanations" if their stations broadcast negative reports about the company, the report said.

Ms Suchada said the report did contain irregularities, citing the suicide of a company staffer. The company was alleged to have paid police officers to make sure the company's name did not appear in a report obtained by the media. "Is this considered a kind of corruption?" said Ms Suchada.

Ms Punninee Nanthapanich, senior vice-president of CPF, on Monday said in a statement that "payments to the media" are a common practice, similar to buying advertising.

The company said the report was partially doctored and distorted, adding that those who released it might have misunderstood the original documents.

Apart from payments to buy advertising, the company's public relations department also allocated funds to sponsor activities initiated by the media, including golfing events and seminars, she said, but added that this did not amount to much.

"We can confirm that we never paid to 'buy the media' to conceal or distort news information," she said.

The National Press Council of Thailand and the News Broadcasting Council of Thailand set up an independent panel on Monday, headed by former secretary-general of the National Anti-Corruption Commission Klanarong Chantik to investigate the matter, Bangkok Post said.

Its findings would be made available to the public as soon as the investigation is over.

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