Sunday's strong showing by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party and the dramatic shrinking of the ruling party’s once-dominant lead in National Assembly seats made for easy headlines for foreign news outlets covering Sunday’s election.
For local media, however, outlets often affiliated to one degree or another with the government, framing the poll’s surprising results proved somewhat trickier.
A glowing feature on the Deum Ampil News website yesterday touted the Cambodian People’s Party’s overall election victory and the continuation of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s now 28-year rule.
It dedicated just a sentence or two to the 26 new seats claimed by the CNRP.
Koh Santepheap, meanwhile, focused on individual provincial results, limiting the broad strokes to the fact the CPP had, in fact, won enough seats to set up a new government.
The Cambodia Express News website published a slew of election results provided by the National Election Committee, each focusing on positives for the ruling party.
The CPP’s loss of one seat in Siem Reap, for instance, was quickly followed by an explanation that the CPP had won the province by four seats to the CNRP’s two.
An employee working for the CEN website who declined to be named yesterday told the Post there was a simple explanation for that – they were ordered to report more heavily on the CPP than the opposition.
“We cannot do whatever we want, because the higher-up website managers order the lower staff to report and post more stories about the CPP,” he said.
“Most of the local media are managed by the ruling party, and we follow orders from our superiors.”
Many state and private television stations limited their coverage to broadcasting the CPP’s declaration of victory yesterday, in which they asked people to remain calm and not incite violence.
The one Khmer television outlet offering full results, TVK, offered them via a marathon broadcast in which hosts recited a commune-by-commune breakdown.
With the vast majority of media dominated by the government or those with ties to them, it is unsurprising to see such a skew, said journalism trainer Chhay Sohpal, who is also the editor-in-chief of Cambodia News.
Many local reporters, he said, are simply doing what they are told.
“The main problem is that some media organisation owners are close to government officials and must report in favour of the ruling party,” Sophal said.
Journalists who fail to do so risk losing their jobs, while their outlets risk losing their licences, he said.
A report published earlier this year by the Cambodian Center for Independent Media pointed to self-censorship as one of the biggest stumbling blocks to a more independent press.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY MELISSA MCMORRAN