Reporters Without Borders deplores an information ministry ban on the retransmission by Cambodian stations of Voice of America and Radio Free Asia programmes on the local elections held throughout Cambodia on 3 June. One station was taken off air for a day while another was forced to broadcast musical programming.
“Censorship of RFA and VOA programmes deprives voters of objective and detailed news and information,” the international press freedom organization said.
“The attitude of the information ministry has worrying implications for the general elections due to be held in 2013. The Cambodian People’s Party of Prime Minister Hun Sen has led the country for almost three decades. The gagging of independent media by the government, and the use of public services and civil servants for party purposes, criticized by electoral observers, are directly responsible for the lack of genuinely democratic balloting as expected by the people.
“We remind the government that unfettered access to independent news and information is the basis for any free and transparent election. It must give up its control of the media and online news and information before the 2013 general elections, otherwise they cannot be regarded as transparent or democratic.”
VOAprogrammes were to have been broadcast on the frequencies used by Sarika FM 106.5 in Phnom Penh and Angkor Ratha FM95.5 in Siem Reap in the north of the country. An undetermined number of other media outlets have also been prevented from retransmitting news and information from the two foreign broadcasters.
Chea Sundaneth, executive director of the Women’s Media Centre of Cambodia, said she had received a request from the ministry on 31 May to stop broadcasting VOA and RFA programmes, as well as those of Radio France Internationaland Radio Australia, on the organization’s radio station. The owner of Angkor Rattha Radio, Keo Rattha, said he had received similar instructions.
According to Pa Nguon Teang, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, the ban on broadcasting election news was imposed for two days by the information ministry on the orders of the National Election Committee.
However, one committee member said the body was not aware of the ban.
According to Koul Panha, executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, state-run media were able to broadcast without any problems.
The banning order on VOA and RFA was confirmed on 4 June by San Putheary, head of the audio-visual department at the information ministry, who said its purpose was to maintain a “quiet atmosphere” during the elections.
Internet under threat
“Against this background of media censorship, we are also entitled to be concerned at the prospect of the first ever Internet legislation aimed at preventing the ‘propagation of false news’, and combating terrorism and threats to the state,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“These arguments are often used by repressive governments such as those of China or Iran to justify the control of online news and information at the expense of dissident voices. It is essential that civil society be consulted in advance of such a bill and that the authorities display transparency in drafting it, and comply with international norms regarding freedom of expression and information.
Cambodia is in the process of acquiring its first cyber law. Press and Quick Reaction Unit spokesman Ek Tha was quoted in the Phnom Penh Post as saying it was not designed to restrict the media but to ensure that the “common interest is protected” and to “prevent any ill-willed people or bad mood people from spreading false information, groundless information that could tend to mislead the public and affect national security or our society”.
The newspaper also quoted Chem Sangva, director-general of the inspection department at the Ministry of Post and Telecommunications, as saying the law was aimed at preventing such crimes as terrorism or the theft of state secrets. He said Cambodia had exchanged experiences with other countries in the region to learn from them in drafting the law.