Thai football fans can watch the whole World Cup at home for free thanks to an intervention by the junta to spread “happiness” after a military coup last month.
A dispute over broadcasting rights had threatened to leave Thais without free access to the majority of the games from football’s showpiece tournament - kicking off Thursday in Brazil.
But with the opening ceremony just hours away the television regulator agreed to pay up to US$13 million to local entertainment company RS to share its live broadcast rights to all 64 matches with public channels.
The move came after the Thai junta pressed the National Broadcasting Telecommunications Commission to resolve the issue.
“RS must broadcast all 64 matches,” said commissioner Suthiphon Thaweechaiyagarn. “Our goal is to allow all Thais to watch the games.”
RS, which initially agreed to share rights for 22 games with free TV, was not immediately available for comment.
Lieutenant General Chatudom Titthasiri, head of army-run Channel 5, which will now broadcast 38 matches, said the payment was justified as “happiness for the whole country is more important than money”.
“We hope that all Thais will be happy,” he told reporters.
The deal will come as a relief to Thai football fans unable to watch the matches in bars and restaurants because of an overnight curfew in many areas.
The time difference with Brazil means most of the World Cup matches will be played during the midnight-4 am period when venturing outside can lead to arrest.
The curfew has been lifted in some provinces and key tourist destinations but remains in force in other areas including the capital.
Since seizing power from a battered civilian administration on May 22, Thailand’s military has embarked on an extensive public relations campaign emphasising the need to “return happiness” to the people.
The public have so far been treated to free haircuts, concerts and even a song penned by the usually stern-faced army chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha.
At the same time authorities have cracked down on dissent, arresting anti-coup protesters and detaining key supporters of the ousted government.
Thailand has yet to heal a deep political rupture suffered in 2006 when billionaire former premier Thaksin Shinawatra was toppled in an earlier army coup.