Cambodia bans foreign media content on local radio
Government stays stopping airing of overseas content on local FM radio stations is to ensure 'fair campaigning', but US says press freedom hit
Cambodia has banned local radio stations from broadcasting content from foreign media in the run-up to a general election next month and told them to stop carrying reports on foreigners playing any role in the campaign.
Prime Minister Hun Sen, one of the world's longest-serving leaders, has total control of local television and most radio stations, and his Cambodian People's Party is expected to win the July 28 election.
Radio Free Asia, one of two US-funded stations offering programmes in Khmer through local radio and free from government influence, said the media censorship would hinder democratic elections.
The US strongly criticised the move and State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell said on Friday that it was a serious infringement of press freedom. The restrictions called into question whether the July 28 vote would be free and fair, he said.
But an official at the information ministry, Chhum Socheat, said foreign radio stations could still air shows on short-wave transmissions. He added that the directive, asking local FM radio stations not to air Khmer-language shows produced by foreign radio until after the July 28 election, was to allow for "fair campaigning" for all parties.
The directive, dated on Tuesday and signed by acting Information Minister Ouk Pratna, orders all FM stations to stop rebroadcasting radio programmes from foreign stations during the month-long campaign period, which began on Thursday, until election day. It threatens legal action if they fail to comply.
"This directive is a serious infringement of freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and starkly contradicts the spirit of a healthy democratic process," Ventrell said at the State Department. He urged the Cambodian government to reconsider.
Radio Free Asia said its Khmer service had been dropped by 10 stations. It called the directive "the most sweeping and stunning frontal assault on media freedoms in Cambodia in recent memory".
Voice of America also condemned it, saying it deprives the Cambodian audiences of critical news and information on the election. "These types of balanced and informative broadcasts are needed more than ever during the elections and we condemn any effort to silence the media," it said.
Both the Washington-based networks, which receive US government funds, said they would broadcast by short-wave radio, satellite and on the internet.
Radio Australia, which also broadcasts in Khmer, would be affected too, Radio Free Asia reported. But foreign broadcasts from Voice of Vietnam and China Radio International and French public radio RFI would not as they operate their own stations in Cambodia, the report said.
Hun Sen's government is accused of suppressing political freedoms and muzzling activists.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, his main challenger, is barred from running due to a string of convictions that the opposition says are politically motivated.
Sam Rainsy, who lives in exile in France to avoid prison, faces 11 years in jail if he returns, after he was convicted in absentia on charges that included publishing a "false map" of the border with Vietnam.
The idiosyncratic Hun Sen last month said he would try to stay in power until he reached 74. He previously vowed to hold office until he turned 90.
Additional reporting by Associated Press, Agence France-Presse