The Ministry of Information has ordered the closure of a radio station that broadcasts content from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, as well as from foreign-based outlets Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, with an official from the ministry warning that other closures may follow.
The shuttering of Moha Nokor station coincides with a sudden crackdown on NGOs and media outlets for alleged tax violations, with targets including RFA, VOA and the Cambodia Daily. The latter has been threatened with closure if it doesn’t cough up a purported $6.3 million in back taxes and penalties.
The August 21 letter to Moha Nokor owner Chhoun Vichny, signed by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith, claims that the station violated its contract with the ministry and the terms on which it had been permitted to operate. No further details were given.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann posted the letter yesterday, as well as another the party received from Moha Nokor announcing that broadcast operations had stopped yesterday.
“I would like to inform His Excellency that the station has stopped broadcasting completely from August 23 because the Ministry of Information has issued an announcement,” the second letter read.
Kanharith yesterday reiterated that the station owner had breached her contract and directed all queries to the ministry’s General Department of Broadcasting, refusing to say whether the station had been shut down due to its programming.
Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng also refused to divulge any further details, only saying that other outlets would be scrutinised.
“Radio stations that violate their contract and violate the laws of this country, the ministry will take action one after another, and no fewer than 10 stations [will face action],” he said.
Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said there was little doubt that politics were the motivation behind the closure, even if the ministry refused to acknowledge it.
“For me the reason is that VOA is there. RFA is there and the CNRP has a two-hour show there,” he said. “You can see what has happened to the Cambodia Daily.”
He called the move a severe narrowing of the democratic space that would have an impact on next year’s national elections.
“We can say that the 2018 elections will not be free and fair elections because we are facing so many obstacles,” he said.
The CNRP also has a one-hour show on Beehive Radio, owned by Mam Sonando, who said yesterday that he had not received a similar notification.
VOA Public Relations Officer Michelle Harris said yesterday that none of its affiliate stations had received “formal notification from the Ministry of Information ordering local stations to stop carrying our content”.
RFA spokesman Rohit Mahajan said the outlet had been informed that they would be unable to air their show going forward.
“It’s difficult to see this sudden development as anything other than part of a worrisome pattern of cracking down on free press and independent voices,” he said.