Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues (Print ISSN: 1544-0036; Online ISSN: 1544-0044)

Research Article: 2021 Vol: 24 Issue: 5S

Creating Country Image through Public Diplomacy: The Case of Foreign Media in Thailand

Teerati Banterng, National Institute of Development Administration

Citation:  Banterng, T. (2021). Creating country image through public diplomacy: The case of foreign media in Thailand. Journal of Legal, Ethical and Regulatory Issues, 24(S5), 1-8


Thailand is seen by the superpower countries as one of the emerging economic nations in ASEAN. The use of the media by the superpower has been made with an attempt to win the hearts and minds of the people. This paper examines how foreign media improve their national image and promote international collaboration from the foreign public with positive attitude and active support. The paper also investigates a new perspective on the Mediated Public Diplomacy strategy through foreign media on the online platform over the two-year period from 2016. The samples were selected from three mainstream foreign media agencies: (1) Voice of America, (2) BBC News, and (3) China Radio International. The content analysis and in-depth interviews showed that these news agencies tarnished negative images and polished positive images through foreign policy, public events, and mutual cooperation. The concepts of country brand and mediated public diplomacy strategy provide frameworks for the analysis.


Country Image, Public Diplomacy, BBC News, Voice of America, China Radio International


At present, the soft power-a coherent strategy for the art of persuasion in terms of culture, value, and public attraction policy in foreign countries-is used in high-stakes international communication by various governments through different strategies such as the “public diplomacy” in order to enhance their positive image among foreign countries.  Joseph Nye (2008), a prominent scholar who defines the term, stated that governments use these techniques to create their positive image at a global level through a means of movies, television stations, and international government agencies. Governments of the superpower worldwide have changed their strategies from exercising the military power to other kinds such as the “soft power”, which is by no means hostile and violent. Instead, this form of power is concentrated in the hands of information and cultural diplomacy (Nye, 2004). As a result, the foreign policy plays a central role in promoting communication for better perception and images of the superpower on the international scale. In addition, the propaganda seems to be another effective strategy for international communication to persuade in different media channels such as the online and social media. A clear example lies in the case of hate speech on social media. Topics may include racism, colorism, and discrimination against religion (Sparkes-Vian, 2019). The Internet becomes an important source to provide unlimited information resources. The role of such platform is increasingly vital with high possibility to replace the traditional ones. This is because the online news, a flexible channel, can publicize the government’s policy, particularly spreading foreign news to other countries (Himelboim et al., 2010).            

The United States of America, one of the superpower countries, benefits from public diplomacy. They launched propaganda campaigns to collate information and build public spaces to gain some advantages over international policy including the one that is influential on the Republic of China and the Russian Federation (Chernobrov & Briant, 2020). In addition, foreign media of the U.S. helps promote the country’s positive image, cultural value and influences in numerous countries (Willnat et al., 2002). Voice of America (VOA), for instance, is a public radio station using the “soft power” strategy to advertise their idea of democratic value in foreign countries (Carlton, 1943; Nye, 2008; Comor & Bean, 2012; Arif, 2014). In another corner of the world, China-a superpower country in Asia—uses the China Central Television (CCTV), the state-controlled broadcast and the entertainment media, to promote the “soft power” strategy, particularly in cultural-related dimensions in international communication. The Chinese government also plays a major role in supplying information through news station representatives from all over the world. This can be one of the national “soft power” strategies to enhance their positive image and strengths in the eyes of others (Flew, 2016). This also improves an unpleasant image of China including any biased foreign media coverage (Ding, 2011 & 2014), such as creating media engagements in Kenya and South Africa through CCTV Africa, Xinhua News, China Radio International (CRI) and China Daily to be more recognized so that China can counterbalance to other long-standing superpower countries such as the United States of America, and the Europe in Africa (Zhang & Mwangi, 2016; Wasserman, 2016). Moreover, this is a blueprint of the national development policy to achieve the “Chinese Dream”, aiming to improve the people’s quality of lives (Wu et al., 2021). Likewise, Thailand-an important country in Southeast Asia-has launched foreign news programs such as the Cable News Network (CNN), a multinational news-based pay television channel headquartered in the U.S. and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC News), the U.K.’s international news station. They are role models of significant international news agencies in Thailand such as the Thai PBS (Tangkitvanich & Wongkitrungruang, 2010). These global stakeholders have chief attributes, which are influential on how the country responds to news and information. To maintain and counterbalance international affairs and policy, Thailand is mandatorily required to understand and realize the advantages and disadvantages of these news agencies, so that we can respond effectively to the impact that may take place in the country in the future (Praditsilp, 2019).

Literature Review

Mediated Public Diplomacy in the Digital Era

Similar to the disruptive technology, public diplomacy requires a constant period of adjustment to be an appropriate means of international communication (Costa, 2017). Public diplomacy can be a channel to formulate the policymakers’ strategies and part of the “soft power” strategy to respond to this changing environment (Jungblut, 2017). Governments in different countries often use the Mediated Public Diplomacy (henceforth MPD) to relieve tension and to quell violence through the promotion of cultural and international cooperation by having the news agency as an intermediary to foster healthy relationship (Sheafer & Shenhav, 2009). This is due to the strategic management and how to engage with the foreign audience through mass media of the government and public relations tactics as a conceptual bridge between traditional public diplomacy and international public relations (Golan & Viatchaninova, 2014). However, the new definition of MPD does not only describe the news management identified by Entman (2008), but also includes the engagement with the local media including paid, earned, owned, and shared content (Golan et al., 2019), especially when creating impactful collaboration with the non-Western media (Albishri et al., 2019). In addition, both scholars and practitioners agree that the information, internet, and communication technologies have shaped the definition of MPD. As a result, it has a pivotal role in conveying foreign policy to the foreign audience in order to establish dialogues on both offline and online platforms (Vitopoulos, 2015). This does not only promote positive attitudes of people in foreign countries, but also toward its own people and government (Fullerton & Kendrick, 2013; Melki & Jabado, 2016).

Country Image and International Communication

Among the international competitions of the superpower countries to project their image on the world stage, the concept of nation branding should be taken into account. This explains how the country establishes its reputation by the marketing strategies. Simon Anholt, who framed this concept in 1996, explained that these strategies can be used to win the hearts and minds of the people, including how to create the identity of the nation in order to seize the power and gain the advantages in international trades and economy (Anholt, 2008). He applied the concepts of reputation management and identity construction for goods and organizations to revive the national image. His advice-giving was related to some essential dimensions to establish positive image, for example, through tourism, investment, economic development, people development, and cultural promotion. Among many, the public diplomacy is one of the effective strategies to communicate the national image (Anholt, 2007). This novel form of diplomacy differs from the traditional ones because the news media is a diplomatic device that seems to be as powerful as the formal policy statements. Such media are able to influence the public’s perception toward a country. Another responsibility is to fight against the damaging content emerging from various channels that can be harmful to the country (Zhang & Meadows, 2012). Above all, the national image construction still needs other important components such as the marketing initiatives, media policy, public relations crisis techniques, and advertising campaigns, particularly in the tourism domain and on how to handle the crisis in international relations (Avraham, 2013). Lastly, constructing the national image is not the only way for a country to become superior to others in terms of power. It can support the nation-building (Ding, 2011), especially when communicating through cultural industries as “soft power” (Praditsilp, 2019).

Foreign Media in Thailand

The technological revolution has made the media landscape transform to the online platform more than the past. The presentation of news information is required to conform to the policy of their own organization and people should reap more benefits from present-day technology (Himelboim et al., 2010). Since 2010, Thailand has complied with the telecommunications regulatory law in broadcasting and television businesses. More than twenty percent of the audience has consumed news content via the online platform. This even aggravates the need of online communication in Thailand. A statistical survey showed that the use of smartphones by Thai people to get access to news and information has risen more than fifty percent, comparing to the country’s population. The report is taken from the National Statistical Office (NSO) (Tangkitvanich & Wongkitrungruang, 2010). In Thailand, the famous press agencies have remained unchanged. They are free-to-air-television such as CH7, CH3, CH9, and CH5. Nevertheless, Thai people have increasingly favored the foreign media aired by the third-party channels such as True Vision, which is a central station that broadcasts foreign news programs such as VOA, CNN, BBC World, CNBC, and Bloomberg to Thai audience. At present, the technology development benefits the audience in that they have more options to choose from. Furthermore, it is more convenient for them to have access to international news stations such as VOA, CNN, BBC News, AI Jazeera, and ARD via websites and social media platforms (Carlton, 1943; Gerhards & Schafer, 2013; Koopratoomsiri, 2018). The role of these news agencies is to distribute their ideas, value, norms to offer new perceptions (Wang & Hong, 2011). The same holds true for the three superpower countries: the United States of America, the United Kingdom of Great Britain, and the Republic of China. The U.S., for instance, aims at engaging, informing, and countering foreign propaganda that has a potential to destroy the country’s image as well as to transmit the idealized principles of American democracy (Comor & Bean, 2012: Hall, 2017), The BBC television and radio, for example, publicizes an idea of modern and democratic liberal value (Kasmani, 2014). This is also true with the Chinese media that aims at presenting its national economic and social development plans and unique regime. This also includes the establishment of the cultural value and presentation of the positive image of China (Flew, 2016: Hartig, 2020). However, most foreign media usually present Thailand’s negative issues and project unpleasant cultural identity as well as ineffective political management (Punnahitanond, 2018). This research then explores and compares news content delivered by foreign media owned by the three superpower countries. In addition, the researcher examines the strategy to create the national image through the MPD in order to find solutions to eradicate negative reputation and unpleasant image of Thailand presented by international news agencies. There are three main objectives of this paper. Firstly, what is the content presentation to construct the country image by foreign media in Thailand? Secondly, what are the strategies used to construct the country image by foreign media in Thailand? Thirdly, what is the similarity and difference presented in the content by foreign media in Thailand?


There were two data sources in this study. Primarily, the data came from the media content presented by the purposive groups of foreign media in Thailand, comprising three press agencies. These agencies are (1) Voice of America (, (2) BBC News (, and (3) China Radio International ( The data were gathered within a period of six months, starting from January 1, 2020 to June 30, 2020. In each press agency, a number of forty sample news content were randomly selected, making the total number of 120 samples for the analysis. Secondarily, the other set of data derived from in-depth interviews with three Thai international communication experts: (1) Associate Professor Asawin Nedpogaeo, Graduate School of Communication Arts and Management Innovation, National Institute of Development Administration, Thailand; (2) Mr. Seksan Anantasirikiat, the International Studies Center (ISC), Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Thailand; (3) Mr. Kittitouch Kitnatthakul, Foreign Office of the Government Public Relations Department, Thailand.


Health and Social Issues Portray the News Content in Thailand

The analysis of 120 pieces of news content showed that the content presentation by the three press agencies varied. This paper then categorized the content according to the topics found. Altogether there were six topics: (1) Science and Technology, (2) Health, (3) Society and Culture, (4) Politics, (5) Economy, and (6) Environment. The presentation of each topic is as follows:

The content presentation by Voice of America, or VOA Thai, mainly brought health, social and cultural issues into focus. During the six-month period of data collection, the VOA Thai presented the health-related issues the most, explaining how American people handled the COVID-19 situation. The news presentation on social and cultural issues was the second most. The key content included social equality, anti-racism campaigns in various countries. Besides, the content presentation related to science and technology, politics, and economy were made in a small but comparable number. Nevertheless, the researcher did not find any content presentation on environmental topic over the same period of time.   

The press agency of the Chinese government in this study, that is, China Radio International, or CRI Thai, is another foreign press agency that presented all content in the scope of this study. Over the data-collection period, news presentation on social and cultural appeared the highest. The CRI Thai presented cultural-related issues in different areas of China, its tourist attractions, landscape and scenery, including other social activities. A range of topics on economic- and health-related issues was less emphasized than the cultural one. The most widely discussed issues were related to the COVID-19 pandemic including, surveillance and prevention given by the medical team. In addition, topics on the country’s economic growth, e-commerce transactions, and international trade were found the least. Surprisingly, issues related to science and technology and politics did not appear over the six-month period.

The British government news agency like the BBC Thai offered comprehensive and thorough content covered in the realm of this research. The BBC Thai featured health-related topics the most. In particular, the content was related to the current outbreak of the COVID-19 situation and how to cope with the pandemic. The numbers of environmental issues were less emphasized than the health-related ones. The topics under the environmental issues included the global warming and pollution in Thailand. Issues of culture and society, and politics were presented in comparable frequencies, albeit the least comparing to health, cultural and social, and political-related content. Most of the content presented by the BBC Thai geared toward Thailand rather than to Britain.

The in-depth interviews showed that the VOA Thai presented news content to support the work of the U.S. government. This also included different foreign affairs worldwide such as the military situation in Iraq, the North Korean leader, and politics in Libya. In a holistic view, the three experts were aware of current affairs in science and technology, health, and innovation the most. The three experts perceived the content presentation by the CRI Thai as strategies to promote the policy of China such as the Belt and Road Initiative. This also included the overseas investments, the country development according to the China Economic Development Plan. Besides, other topics such as political issues concerning the country stability, the Chinese language, culture and history could be extracted from the CRI Thai. However, the content presentation by the BBC Thai was rather distinctive from that of the VOA Thai and the CRI Thai. The BBC Thai rarely presented issues related to their home culture. Instead, its main focus was on Thailand’s current affairs with particular emphases on human rights, British parliamentary democracy, Thai politics, and Thai social institutions. The content presentation by the BBC Thai is noticeably divergent from what has been publicized by the Thai government.

Using Social Media: Spotlight of Public Diplomacy Strategy

The researcher found that the three foreign news agencies employed numerous strategies to promote their national image. The various use of strategies aimed at attracting a wide range of Thai audience to follow their content. Based on the content analysis and the in-depth interviews, the techniques used in these public relations shared a lot of similarities and showed a lot of differences. The researcher categorized these strategies into three strategic types:

Podcast and Digital Audio According to the content analysis and in-depth interviews, the use of the audio media was a presentation option that attracted a wide range of listeners whose preference was not on reading. The VOA Thai and the CRI Thai both inserted news podcasts during the content presentation on their website, accompanying it with news articles and news photos. The audio media was used to make the interviews, dialogs and conversations appearing in the news content more interactive and stimulating. Over the same period of time, the BBC Thai did not use any podcasts or digital forms of audio-recording to present news content to its audience.  

Social Media as a Local Channel The vital strategy that was found in this study was that the three new agencies similarly used the social media like Facebook as another online communication channel to bring their news content to the Thai audience. The VOA Thai interacted with the Thai audience by using the Facebook Live. The audience was allowed to discuss and ask questions whenever needed. The BBC Thai shared some thought-provoking articles related to the current affairs around Thailand. This strategy successfully caught a lot of attention from the Thai audience. The CRI Thai created a Facebook Page under the name “China Face” to present its news content, articles on Chinese language teaching, some cultural tidbits, video clips about Chinese tourist attractions. Discernibly, the appearing content was shared directly from other websites, or otherwise newly-generated.

Insight Content Data This is another strategic form of news presentation found in this study. Explanatory and descriptive writing styles, the analysis by academics and journalists, including using some statistical data and citations were used by these foreign new agencies in order to increase their trustworthiness since they represented their own government. The BBC Thai showed the statistical data on poverty among the local people, including social problems in Thailand. These problems were of the interests of people at the grass-roots level. However, this technique was barely found in the VOA Thai and the CRI Thai.

Table 1 showed that the content presentation by the three press agencies covered the six issues presented in this study: (1) Sciences and Technology (2) Health (3) Culture and Society (4) Politics (5) Economy and (6) Environment. The health-related issue appeared in the content presented by the VOA Thai and the BBC Thai the highest, while the CRI Thai featured the cultural- and social-related issued the most frequently. The VOA Thai presented the issues of cultural and social dimensions the second most and the different frequency between health- and cultural- and social-related issues was not wide. This is different from what the BBC Thai did. They reported the environmental-related issued the second most, but the difference was stark. Over the six-month period, the VOA Thai and the BBC Thai did not present some issues. The VOA Thai did not present the environmental-related issue, while the CRI Thai missed the presentation of scientific- and technological-, and political-related issues. Covered all the topics, the BBC Thai, however, placed little emphasis on science, technology, and economy.

Table 1
Comparison of News Content Presentation Between VOA, CRI, And BBC in Thai-Language Websites from January to June 2020
Theme VOA
Content Frequency
1. Sciences and Technology
2. Health
3. Culture and Society
4. Politics
5. Economy
6. Environment
Total 40 40 40

Discussion and Conclusion

This research examines the presentation of the country image of the three foreign press agencies in Thailand through their content presentation. Results from the content analysis as well as in-depth interviews show that the content presentation by these foreign news agencies covers the six important dimensions necessary for positive image construction. This is in line with Anholt’s (2007) Competitive Identity Hexagon, a model for establishing a national image consisting of six dimensions: (1) tourism promotion (2) brand building and export of the national brands comprising the corporate brands, and goods and services (3) foreign policy (4) international trades and investments, (5) national cultural promotion and (6) reputation of the public figures and the friendliness of the people from a foreign perspective. This study shows that three aspects are relevant to this model: (1) the tourism, social and cultural perspectives that are presented in an integrated manner and categorized in the same group. This can be seen in the content presentation by the CRI Thai and the VOA Thai. (2) the foreign policy perspectives, which can be found from the content analysis from the VOA Thai and the BBC Thai. The in-depth interviews from the experts reveal that the CRI Thai also presents this issue; however, their presentation is mainly toward the Chinese government value and policy. (3) the economic perspectives, which can be seen that all news agencies presented the economic issues on the website. The BBC Thai mostly presents the content on Thailand’s economic development, while the VOA Thai and the CRI Thai put strong emphasis on their policy in developing their own nation and how to foster economic relations with others on a global scale.

The key strategy that is used by the three news agencies to establish their national image in other foreign countries, particularly in Thailand, is to reach the local media through the use of local platforms such as the Facebook Page. The three press agencies publicize their news content on such the platforms to reach a wide range of audience. The VOA Thai highlights the interaction with the locals by broadcasting the content via Facebook Live. This communication channel allows them to answer the audience’s questions almost spontaneously. The BBC Thai adopts a different technique. They present some analytical and critical articles on Thai politic and economic topics on its social media platform. The CRI Thai shows the interview reports by Thai people living in China, including articles and some tourist attractions in China. This has been used more frequently than presenting perspectives on politics and political policy to gain public interests.

From the overall view, the three news agencies over the year 2020 chiefly focus on the health issue. This is principally due to the ongoing crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic situation worldwide. They all propose clear policy and regulations with an attempt to put the COVID-19 under control. These are presented from domestic as well as international perspectives. Based on the content analysis on the website, the CRI Thai avoids presenting politic and foreign policy issues. Diversely, the expert interviews show that these issues can be found from the CRI Thai. The BBC Thai, on the other hand, offers more Thai news coverage than that in their own country. According to the experts’ views on public diplomacy and communication in Thailand, there might be some implications caused by the U.K.’s policy and value toward Thailand’s politics and international relations. Experts also agree that both the VOA Thai and the BBC Thai present news content focusing on their country’s foreign policy, democracy, and political value.

From Joseph Nye’s (2004 & 2008) perspective, the research findings are consistent with the use of “soft power” as a significant means of persuasion in terms of culture, value and policy to attract public interests in foreign countries. This helps enhance their national image in the eyes of other countries. The VOA Thai continues presenting their value and policy of the government via the local media. This communication channel has considerable power to create a global image in a compatible manner as movies, national television stations, and international state agencies. In addition, showing positive sides of the country has great potential to revive the national image, especially in time of adversity, or to tackle the crisis and combat negative public opinions and biases (Avraham, 2013: Banterng, 2017), such as the digital interference, disinformation, and fake news (Chernobrov & Briant, 2020), which is necessary for creating a broader public opinion (Zhang & Meadow, 2012). Important strategies that the foreign governments use via this new media are to promote propagandas and strategic public relations to communicate their desired objectives and foreign policy via public agendas in non-Western media (Naveh, 2002: Albishri et al., 2019). Moreover, news presentation by foreign news agencies is not just about what is happening in foreign publics, but it is about how they view themselves among the foreign countries (Sakurai, 2017).

Further recommendations can be made for those who are interested in studying the national image through the MPD. They may use the three foreign press agencies but investigate it in different regions, especially those in conflicts or with international political issues. Exploring the MPD strategy in those contexts may yield more interesting results. For example, in some Middle East and African countries. This may include exploring other superpower countries that seem to dominate Thailand or ASEAN, such as Russia, South Korea, and Japan. The development of the MPD strategy through the use of different communication channels in different countries may require some financial support, skillful manpower specialized in communication, and novel strategies to establish national image via modern forms of media. Knowledge of international relations and critical communication in the growing crisis are significantly vital for any political communicators.


Teerati Banterng is the Lecturer of Graduate School of Communication Arts and Management Innovation, National Institute of Development Administration, Thailand. He is the corresponding author and his email address is


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