Archive for the 'advocacy' Category

Singapore2010 – New media to be extensively used in Youth Olympics 2010

Perhaps in recognition of the power of social media to transcend national and geographical boundaries as well as its ability to generate awareness and build excitement, the organizing committee behind Singapore’s successful bid to host the inaugural Youth Olympics in 2010 announced that new media will be extensively used. 

This is what the Straits Times–the country’s state paper–said: “The new media platform will be extensively used to reach out to youths worldwide by developing youth communities and strengthening the connections between young people even before the YOG begins.” (Feb 21, 2008, ST)

Check out the following 2010 social media sites:

Friendster

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Facebook

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Youth.sg 2010 discussion forum

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Thailand receives reputation boost on health front

Clinton and Thai Health Minister (picture credit: Bangkok Post)I know that my past two posts on Thailand expressed serious concerns regarding the country’s reputation both in the region and around the world.  Its desultory progress toward restoring democracy and the retrogressive tactic to ban YouTube did it no favor.  However, there is one area where I think the country is bold and progressive, and that is its decision to break the patents of some prohibitively expensive HIV medications so that its HIV-positive citizens can have affordable access to medications that could save their lives.  Earlier this year, Thailand issued licenses for affordable generic versions of Abbott’s Kaletra for HIV (while Brazildid likewise with Merck’s Efavirenz).

In response, the U.S. pharmaceutical industry galvanized against Thailand, engaging lobbyist groups such as USA for Innovation to put pressure on the American government to take punitive measures against Bangkok.  In late-March,  the U.S. Office of Trade Representative in Washington downgraded the country to the Priority Watch List for its IP trangressions, according to Bangkok’s The Nation.

Thailand’s case received a significant boost yesterday when former U.S. President Bill Clinton standing side-by-side Thailand’s Public Health Minister Mongkol Na Songkhla, gave his backing to both countries’ decision to break the patents.  Unequivocal, Clinton averred, “I strongly support the position of the governments of Thailand and Brazil and their decision after futile negotiations to break these patents.”  See a Bangkok Post report here and a Reuters story here.

Thailand right now suffers a credibility issue.  In areas where the government is doing the right and just things, I think this is just what it needs to do in terms of public relations to get the message out, i.e. locate and nurture well-respected leaders to lend their weight to the given cause or issue.

Another point here…yes, the pharmaceutical giants may have the budget to retain public relations titans and sophisticated lobbying interests to push their causes, but on the ground, there is a grassroots movement to protest what is seen as naked avarice on the part of some of these drug companies.  In April, a group of students from Harvard University staged a protest outside Abbott’s facility in Wocester against its decision not to allow Thailand to produce generics of Kaletra and its pulling out of other vital AIDS medications from the Thai market.  After speeches were made, the students staged a “die-in,” where the “denied prescription” was carried past the protestors, who then fell to the groundin mock death.  Similar protests took place in Chicago, New York, Washington, D.C., Austin, and other key American cities.  Read an article from The Harvard Crimson here.

Oh, and on the YouTube ban, well, here’s the latest…Google has blinked, apparently.  The Bangkok Post has reported that the company has written to Thailand’s information minister pledging to remove all “anti-monarchy” video clips from its video-sharing subsidiary.  Read the Bangkok Post story here.

Thailand hires PR company to bolster public image

Bangkok traffic outside the MBK CenterThe Thai junta announced on May 1 that it will appoint a U.S. PR firm for what it calls a “nation branding” campaign. The account was cited by Thai PM Surayud Chulanot to be worth US$600,000 over a three-month period. His Foreign Ministry appeared to contradict him when a spokesperson said that Thailand would spend only US$165,000.

The latest move was suggested by a Reuters report to be partly in response to USA for Innovation‘s recent ad in WSJ attacking the Thai government for violating the patents of American drugs sold in Thailand. USA for Innovation is a lobbyist group supportive of the American pharmaceutical industry. It is headed by Ken Adelman, who is also a senior counselor at Edelman PR. Setting up “not-for-profit” lobby groups to adovcate certain causes on behalf of powerful clients can be a sophisticated and effective tactic, but it can go awfully wrong if these seeming grassroots groups turn out to be disingenuous. Déjà vu? Recall the Edelman Wal-Marting Across Americascandal.

For what it’s worth, the Thai government’s move appear to be a recognition that it is loosing the credibility war and that two key battlefronts are reputation and issues management. America is a longstanding ally of Thailand, and the Thai military junta’s sagging reputation needs to be reversed in order for the American government to continue to justify its tacit support. It didn’t help when the Thai government in April banned YouTube for allowing video clips that supposedly infringed its lese majeste law, and shut down another websitepantip.com, a popular local online chatroom–on similar grounds.

Will this move make a difference? To some extent, it is a question of execution, although 3 months is unlikely to be enough. The Thai junta surely understands this but for public positioning has stated 3 months as a start. But one suspects that there is a more fundamental problem here than a case of a misunderstood government. And that is something PR cannot fix.


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