Bars no barrier to Sorrayuth
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