KPI sur­vey mired in con­tro­versy

In­sti­tute scram­bles to clear ‘mis­con­cep­tions’ as me­dia com­pares PMs, writes Mongkol Bangprapa

Bangkok Post - - NATIONAL -

King Prajadhipok’s In­sti­tute’s lat­est an­nounce­ment of pub­lic opin­ions gath­ered on Thai prime min­is­ters of the past 15 years, orig­i­nally aimed to mark the in­sti­tute’s 19th an­niver­sary, ap­pears to in­stead have marred the in­sti­tute’s im­age.

KPI’s sec­re­tary-gen­eral Wuthisarn Tanchai was forced to spend a full day clar­i­fy­ing the find­ings af­ter the in­sti­tute’s pre­sen­ta­tion on Sept 6, which he said was sub­ject to much mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion by the me­dia.

Jour­nal­ists were later also slammed by Prime Min­is­ter Prayut Chan-o-cha for re­quest­ing his com­ment on the mat­ter.

Mr Wuthisarn said this was the first time he had spent time cor­rect­ing mis­un­der­stand­ings of the in­sti­tute’s find­ings since he as­sumed the KPI’s top post two years ago. It was not sup­posed to be the in­sti­tute’s mis­sion.

Cen­tral to the al­leged mis­un­der­stand­ing in the KPI’s opin­ion sur­vey is a con­tro­ver­sial com­par­i­son of the pop­u­lar­ity rat­ings of Gen Prayut and fugi­tive for­mer prime min­is­ter Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra.

“That is not what the find­ings rep­re­sent,” Mr Wuthisarn said.

He said the KPI in­tended to only gauge peo­ple’s views, and the in­sti­tute was aware such com­par­isons can­not be made con­sid­er­ing their dif­fer­ent time­frames and con­texts.

Still, this is what ap­peared to have caught the me­dia’s eye and ap­pealed to the pub­lic in­ter­est.

“We’ve never faced a prob­lem like this be­fore,” Mr Wuthisarn told the Bangkok Post, re­fer­ring to the in­ter­pre­ta­tions that sub­se­quently led to a heated de­bate that lasted for sev­eral days.

In the sur­vey con­ducted be­tween April 24 and May 15, the KPI asked 33,420 peo­ple across the coun­try how con­fi­dent they were in the heads of state over the pe­riod 2002 to 2017.

Thaksin re­ceived an ap­proval rating of 93% for the year 2003, while Gen Prayut got a 87.5% ap­proval for 2015.

How­ever, both their rat­ings for the fol­low­ing years were lower. Thaksin’s score was 77.2% for 2006, the year his gov­ern­ment, ac­cused of abuse of power, was top­pled by a coup. Gen Prayut’s rating for 2016, two years af­ter his rise to power, had dipped slightly to 84.6%.

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Wuthisarn, KPI in­tended to show what kind of pop­u­lar­ity scores each prime min­is­ter re­ceived for “dif­fer­ent pe­ri­ods”, but the me­dia fo­cused on com­par­ing the rank­ings of dif­fer­ent lead­ers, which led to what he claimed were mis­un­der­stand­ings.

It sparked doubts over KPI and why it dared con­duct such a sur­vey and present the find­ings.

When asked for a re­sponse by the me­dia, Gen Prayut be­came frus­trated while for­mer prime min­is­ter and Demo­crat leader Ab­hisit Ve­j­ja­jiva, who won an ap­proval rating of 61.6% for 2010 and only 51.2% for the fol­low­ing year, shrugged off the sur­vey’s re­sults.

Mr Ab­hisit said the re­sults were prob­a­bly in­flu­enced by the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere in which many peo­ple did not trust politi­cians.

Mean­while, in the Pheu Thai camp, its for­mer Lop Buri MP Am­nuay Kh­lang­pha was quick to at­tribute Thaksin’s high rank­ings to many of his poli­cies that aimed to sat­isfy pub­lic needs.

The rip­ple ef­fects of the find­ings went even fur­ther, lead­ing some me­dia to ask whether the sur­vey re­sults would af­fect the gen­eral elec­tion sched­uled for late next year, even though it should be clear the find­ings can­not an­swer such ques­tions, Mr Wuthisarn said.

The way KPI’s sur­vey was in­ferred caused Mr Wuthisarn to cast doubt on the role of jour­nal­ists, say­ing he is not com­pletely con­vinced they failed to un­der­stand the sur­vey re­sults.

Some mem­bers of the me­dia were led to draw com­par­isons be­tween Gen Prayut and Thaksin be­cause they be­lieved such a story would “sell” bet­ter, even though it could con­tain dis­torted facts, Mr Wuthisarn said.

In the me­dia world, news is of­ten in­flu­enced by in­di­vid­ual values, which are sub­jec­tive, Mr Wuthisarn said.

He added that per­haps some me­dia mem­bers did not only want to sell news, but they prob­a­bly had other mo­tives as well.

Some in­for­ma­tion which peo­ple re­ceive may not be al­ways true, he said. With the spread of news be­com­ing so much faster be­cause of on­line so­cial net­works, it can be “very danger­ous if peo­ple ‘like’ and share [such in­for­ma­tion] with­out check­ing”, Mr Wuthisarn said.

The con­tro­versy over KPI’s lat­est opin­ion sur­vey will urge it to be more cau­tious about pre­sent­ing sur­veys in the fu­ture, he said.

The in­sti­tute does not serve any par­tic­u­lar po­lit­i­cal camp and has been es­tab­lished with a mis­sion to ed­u­cate peo­ple on democ­racy and po­lit­i­cal af­fairs, he added.

As KPI’s fourth sec­re­tary-gen­eral, Mr Wuthisarn said he is com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing the KPI’s rep­u­ta­tion, us­ing his ex­pe­ri­ence as a for­mer mem­ber of the nowde­funct Na­tional Re­form As­sem­bly and ex role as deputy dean of Tham­masat Univer­sity’s Fac­ulty of So­cial Ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Opin­ion sur­veys are part of KPI’s mis­sion and have been con­ducted since 2002 with­out any prob­lems, un­til the an­nounce­ment of its lat­est find­ings, he said.

Mr Wuthisarn said he was not as con­cerned about the dam­age that has been done to KPI’s im­age as he is about the man­ner in which in­for­ma­tion is com­mu­ni­cated in so­ci­ety.

He said in the cur­rent po­lit­i­cal at­mos­phere, where so­cial unity is still elu­sive, in­cor­rect in­for­ma­tion in the form of news sto­ries can cre­ate new con­flicts.

This is a real prob­lem with no ev­i­dent so­lu­tion, Mr Wuthisarn said.

We’ve never faced a prob­lem like this be­fore.


Wuthisarn Tanchai, sec­re­tary- gen­eral of King Prajadhipok’s In­sti­tute, expresses con­cern over what he claims was a “mis­in­ter­pre­ta­tion” of KPI’s lat­est sur­vey of pub­lic opin­ion con­cern­ing past and present prime min­is­ters that placed Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra...

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