Bars no bar­rier to Sor­rayuth

Bangkok Post - - SPOTLIGHT -

Even be­hind bars, former TV news an­chor Sor­rayuth Suthas­sanachinda con­tin­ues to cap­ture au­di­ences — through his close aides and the me­dia that know the celebrity news­man has a sub­stan­tial es­tab­lished fol­low­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to ob­servers, Sor­rayuth has de­vel­oped a re­la­tion­ship with his view­ers like no other “brand”.

Though sev­eral bade him farewell af­ter the guilty rul­ing, they still speak highly of him when it comes to his news pro­gramme and what he did while host­ing the pop­u­lar morn­ing show.

The celebrity news­man was im­pris­oned late last month af­ter the Ap­peal Court up­held his jail sen­tence for the em­bez­zle­ment of state ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue and the Supreme Court re­jected his bail ap­pli­ca­tion.

The case in­volved his com­pany, Rai Som Co, and two other de­fen­dants — Rai Som em­ployee Mon­tha Theer­adet and former Mass Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Author­ity of Thai­land (MCOT) em­ployee Pichapa Iamsa-ard.

They used forged doc­u­ments to swin­dle MCOT out of 138 mil­lion baht in ad­ver­tis­ing rev­enue dur­ing Sor­rayuth’s ten­ure as a host of a TV news pro­gramme a decade ago.

In Fe­bru­ary 2016, Sor­rayuth and Mon­tha were found guilty and each was sen­tenced to 13 years and four months in jail for help­ing Pichapa and a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial com­mit malfea­sance. Pichapa was sen­tenced to 20 years’ im­pris­on­ment.

Af­ter the lower court’s rul­ing, Sor­rayuth bowed to pres­sure to quit his work, but kept in touch with his fans via In­sta­gram. About 10 months later, or in Jan­uary this year, he went back to his old job, but this time on Face­book.

The tim­ing of his come­back could not have been bet­ter; he turned up in the south­ern prov­inces that were be­ing bat­tered by se­vere flood­ing. At the peak of the cri­sis, he cap­tured the com­mu­nity’s plight and re­ported it and the feed­back was re­mark­able.

Sor­rayuth’s skills have not eluded Bangkok Re­mand Prison chief Krit Krasaed­hibaya who, upon welcoming the news­man to the fa­cil­ity, re­veals that he has plans for the celebrity in­mate.

Ac­cord­ing to me­dia in­ter­views, the chief war­den wants to put Sor­rayuth in a pub­lic re­la­tions job. In Mr Krit’s view, Sor­rayuth has more to give than “fold­ing pa­per bags” with his prison mates and the jail wants to get a lit­tle more out of him, if he agrees to it.

Crit­ics ar­gue that Sor­rayuth, like ousted prime min­is­ter Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra, re­alises the im­mense power of the me­dia and knows how to ex­ploit op­por­tu­ni­ties. De­spite fac­ing se­ri­ous charges of graft and be­ing slapped with a prison term, both still re­tain strong fan bases.

His Face­book page “Sor­rayuth Suthas­sanachinda Kam­makorn Khao” has more than one mil­lion fol­low­ers. Many have openly ex­pressed their will­ing­ness to wel­come him back at a more ap­pro­pri­ate time.

If the cur­rent feed­back on Sor­rayuth’s fate is any in­di­ca­tion, the news­man is likely to re­gain his foot­ing in no time, if or when he re­turns to his job.

Ac­cord­ing to a source at the Jus­tice Min­istry, there have been at­tempts to push for sus­pended jail sen­tences for “celebrity” in­mates who have made con­tri­bu­tions to so­ci­ety and pose no flight risk.

This kind of pro­posal, while its merit is yet to be de­bated and de­tails are not avail­able, prom­ises to trig­ger con­tro­versy, the source said. This is be­cause, in the pub­lic eye, those who are most likely to ben­e­fit from it are con­victed politi­cians and celebri­ties.

How­ever, the out­go­ing chief of the Cor­rec­tions Depart­ment is said to have poured cold wa­ter on the pro­posal.

So it re­mains to be seen if the is­sue will be picked up when a new depart­ment chief takes up the post.

Sor­rayuth: Jail­house rocks for him and his fans

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