Popular media outlets Radio Free Asia and Voice of America have become the latest to draw the attention of the government for allegedly not paying taxes, one week after a letter to the Cambodia Daily demanding more than $6 million in back taxes was leaked.
In the August 11 letter, the Ministry of Economy and Finance asks the Information Ministry to take action against the stations for failing to pay taxes and for not being licensed news organisations.
The letter says that both RFA and VOA had failed to register with the Tax Department and to pay taxes, both as an institution and for individual employees, despite being reminded to do so by the tax officials.
“[They] are having news activities and rent air time from some local radio stations to relay their broadcasting without having fulfilled tax duty, although they have received our invitation and announcement,” the letter reads.
It also asks Information Minister Khieu Kanharith to push the two radio stations to comply with their tax obligations, or else take “strict action” against them.
Kanharith did not respond to requests for comment, but took to his Facebook on Saturday to say that the ministry had not taken a stance on the issue. “Because I have not received the letter yet and normally paying tax is the duty of the station which rents airtime,” he wrote on social media.
Ouk Kimseng, ministry spokesman, said the two outlets will have to pay tax if they have not already been doing so, and would need to register with the Information Ministry. He declined to comment further.
“For now, they have to respond to the Tax Department. For other things, the Ministry of Information will decide this week,” he said. “For licensing, I won’t talk about this now. It is a bit complicated.”
Nob Sothon Vicheth, cabinet director at the Ministry of Economy and Finance, declined to comment and directed queries to the Tax Department, where General Director Kong Vibol could not be reached. Vibol said last week that if the Daily failed to pay its tax bill or to dispute it formally within the month, it would have its licence revoked.
RFA’s spokesman in Washington DC, Rohit Mahajan, said the radio station did not have any comment on the letter.
Pa Nguon Teang, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, which runs the media outlet Voice of Democracy, said that if the Tax Department was cracking down on offenders then it should not be restricted to the three media outlets.
“I think it is a new measure of the government to threaten or put pressure on independent media in the time when the election is approaching,” he said. “So, I am concerned for the freedom of press and free access to information for the people.”