Last week, Meta House screened the latest instalment of Equity Weekly, a TV program staffed by young Cambodian journalists under the auspices of the UN Development Program, one of the latest iterations of the United Nations’ often fraught attempts to promote democracy in the country. Its topic this time around: the Ministry of Information’s efforts to stifle international broadcasters Radio Free Asia and Voice of America from transmitting in Cambodia during the weekend of the commune elections.
With low literacy rates or restricted access to television in the provinces, radio forms the basis for most peoples’ access to information about wider current events. With broadcast media in this country, along with most Khmer language newspapers, affiliated to political parties, RFA and VOA are among the rare voices both critical of the government and offering an independent perspective to their audience.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith has already indicated that similar broadcast restrictions will apply during next year’s national elections. Agreeing to speak to Equity Weekly, the Minister was eloquent in the defence of his ministry’s actions, arguing that the action was necessary to ensure a fair election because 90 percent of the content run by the two stations was critical of the incumbents.
Mr. Khieu really stole the show with his ensemble for the interview, a black-and-white checked shirt, matched with a diagonally checked red-and-gold tie and his trademark rimless glasses. Part Saul Goodman and part Nicolas Cage in Snake Eyes, Mr. Khieu’s publically accessible Facebook page reveals the minister has fine form in all matters sartorial. A profile picture from the Minister’s office sees him in ceremonial garb and gold bling, affecting all the dignity of a commissioned officer in the British Navy of old. Another picture shows the long-time Hun Sen confidante in a button-up reflective silver jacket during an official reception at the Presidential Palace of the Philippines.
Against the drab grays and whites of the rest of his government, Mr. Khieu dares to flaunt his adventurous tastes. Minister, we salute you!