The two US-backed media outlets and a local NGO’s news service whose broadcasts in Khmer were yanked off the airwaves by government officials before Sunday’s elections aren’t staying silent about the effect of such a move, with one calling it a giant step backward for the country.
The absence of stories from the field stemmed from a decision by the Ministry of Information to force multiple FM radio stations not to broadcast election coverage from Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.
Pa Nguon Teang, director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, said the centre’s news service, Voice of Democracy, was cut off as well.
“This is a lawless ban and signifies growing danger for media and freedom of expression in Cambodia,” he said VOA Khmer service manager Chris Decherd said the ban cut off hundreds of thousands of listeners, and that was a conservative estimate.
Because of the ban, “we lost more than half our audience on one of the biggest news days of the year”, he said, adding that VOA programming was back on the air yesterday morning.
Buth Bovuth with the Ministry of Information confirmed media reports that the order was sent to several stations.
When contacted by the Post, he would not explain why pulling the curtain on VOA and RFA election coverage was necessary, saying the election was over and calling the incidents “old news”.
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said the country’s election law mandates a “cool down” period during the election in which political commentary is barred.
“The foreign [media] has to respect the Cambodian law, and this was not the first time of banning. We did the same in a previous election.”
Radio Free Asia expressed disappointment in a statement yesterday: “This arbitrary decision is especially troubling as it was made during the final days of the commune election campaign, a time when the free flow of election information is critical.”