Government bans independent radio stations from election coverage

[8 June 2012] – At least three radio stations in Cambodia were prohibited from broadcasting by the Cambodian government in observance of the country’s commune elections on Sunday.

The Ministry of Information (MOI) ordered the local station Voice of Democracy (VOD), and international broadcasts of Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) to stop broadcasting or not to broadcast any election news at different instances on or around Cambodia’s Commune elections on 3 June.

The VOD’s FM 106.5 radio station in Phnom Penh was told by authorities not to broadcast any news on election day, and instead air only music programs until elections were closed at 3 p.m. on 3 June.

Also, VoD’s Angkor Ratha FM 95.5 station in Siem Reap was shut down for the entire day. A news item from the Phnom Penh Post reported that an Angkor Ratha spokesman said the station’s transmitter had been damaged.

Meanwhile, five RFA and VOA affiliate stations were prohibited to broadcast for two days, from election eve and on election day itself. The broadcasts were ordered off the air just the night before the prohibition.

All three stations had previously been broadcasting about issues in the election process and on voter rights.

A report from the Committee to Protect Journalists said that the ban also extended to Radio Australia and Radio France Internationale.

Official reasons unclear

The MOI was apparently acting on behalf of the National Election Committee, which was overseeing the communal polls.

A VOA report quoted an MOI official as saying that ‘the ban was to maintain a “quiet atmosphere” as Cambodians went to the polls to elect local leaders of commune councils.’

The same report also observed that pro-government media and state-run TV were allowed to broadcast throughout the election day.

VOD, which was originally asked to go off the air, was allowed to resume broadcasting after 40 minutes on the condition that the station does not broadcast any news throughout the election process, or until 3 p.m that day.

Curiously, the MOI also ordered VOD not to broadcast any news about the Beoung Kak and Borey Keyla land eviction cases during the prohibition period.

The Ministry of Information said that VOD broadcasts on the election situation ran counter to National Election Committee (NEC) laws.

However, the NEC said that VOD broadcasts were not wrong.

When asked about prohibition of broadcast from these elections, NEC President Im Suosdey explained they ‘want to stabilize the situation of the election process.’ Im made the remark during the press conference declaring preliminary results of the elections at the NEC headquarter in Phnom Penh.

Condemnation

Pa Nguon Teang, executive director of the Cambodian Centre for Independent Media (CCIM) which runs VOD, said this was the first time they received such an order during the election period, which he described as ‘a lawless ban’ for not having any legal basis.

The CCIM director said that the prohibition ‘signifies growing danger’ and ‘constitutes a systematic threat’ for media and freedom of expression in Cambodia.

The U.S. Board of Broadcasting Governors (BBG) also condemned the government move. ‘This action runs contrary to the principles of free and fair elections,’ said BBG Presiding Governor Michael Lynton.

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