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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rainsy Bemoans Censorship, UN Cites Racism

Rainsy Bemoans Censorship, UN Cites Racism

FUNCINPEC's Sam Rainsy complained April 12 that the United Nations Transitional Authority

in Cambodia (UNTAC) had censored the script he had prepared for a party political

broadcast.

The broadcast was to be aired under UNTAC chief Yasushi Akashi's recent directive

which obliges the existing administrative structures to grant "fair access to

the media during the election campaign." This means that the State of Cambodia

has to open its media facilities to opposition parties.

But Tim Carney, head of the U.N. Information and Education component, refused to

allow the FUNCINPEC's slot to be filmed, Rainsy said.

"They said they had objections about the tone and content. But before going

into the studios I re-read very carefully the media guidelines and the electoral

law's code of conduct," Rainsy stated.

He claimed the party promotional broadcast contained no appeal to violence, no incitement

to racial hatred, no explicit mentioning of actual party names- "it was just

suggestive"- and no allegations which could be considered as defamatory. "In

spite of that I was censored," he complained.

Rainsy went on to say that this was the first act of UNTAC censorship since the campaign

started on Apr. 7. "And it was just because I used the word Youn instead of

Vietnam," he said.

He said that after the Vietnamese invasion in 1979 it was forbidden to call the Vietnamese

Youn. But Youn has been used for centuries just the same way that the Vietnamese

call the Khmers Mieng."

"Maybe Youn is slightly pejorative. But it's a habit and I am not here to educate

the people. Mieng which means 'sort of primitive' is also pejorative. However, since

the Paris peace accords people feel more free to express themselves according to

their habit and what they used to do in the past. So I used the word Youn. Tim Carney

said that it was no good but this gives respect to the lesson the Vietnamese taught

the Cambodian people during the Vietnamese occupation," Rainsy said.

Last year Akashi criticized Khmer Rouge radio for its use of racist language and

the persistent use of the word Youn. He said he considered such pejorative terms

unseemly and objectionable in public discourse.

Rainsy said he referred to the Youn in four points which were the main theme of his

party piece. These were, firstly, the fact that the present regime was installed

by the Youn. Secondly, the regime was therefore indebted to the Youn. And, thirdly,

this meant it must give compensation to the Youn. His fourth point was that the leaders

of the regime will not pay back the debt themselves but will use the sweat, blood,

wealth and territory of Cambodia to pay, in order to stay in power and maintain the

support of the Youn.

"But this is true and I wasn't allowed to say it. I told Tim Carney that this

was very serious. It's a breach of the freedom of expression. It's a matter of principal,

there should be no censorship as long as the basic rules of the code of conduct are

respected," Rainsy said. He went on to say that Carney suggested that he use

the word Vietnam or Vietnamese government because Youn was too general and it was

a very sensitive issue. "Carney said that there could be confusion with the

poor Vietnamese settlers here, that it was not them who directly installed the Phnom

Penh government. But I know that and I think the people are clever enough to know

that it's not the poor Vietnamese settlers but the Vietnamese army that are responsible,"

he said.

However, the problem with the broadcast was not just with the term Youn, but the

tone of the comments, Rainsy said. "Everybody has a way to speak. At first people

were curious and they listened [to the party broadcasts]. But now people are bored

because the speeches are always the same, they're monotonous. So I am spontaneous.

I have maybe some passion in speaking. This is different from the others, they are

much milder. But listen and watch Hun Sen. Maybe I am a bit pushy but Hun Sen is

violent," he said.

Rainsy said he would take the U.N.'s objections into account and would be "milder

and more insipid" in the future. "It's better to abide by the conventions

of UNTAC than lose the five minutes allocated to FUNCINPEC," he said.

Where Rainsy chose the description "spontaneous and passionate," a U.N.

official opted for "racist and extreme." "It was incredibly racist

stuff," he said. And while Rainsy claimed that he did not transgress any of

the media guidelines, the U.N. official said he could not believe how inciteful the

party promotion was. "Others may have been more inciteful but at least they

have not bothered to come forward to have it aired," he stated. Another U.N.

official referred specifically to Rainsy's use of the word Youn. "He used it

repeatedly, insistently, emphatically and with some degree of venom."

Commenting on Rainsy's complaint about censorship, U.N. spokesman Eric Berman stated

that there was some concern that the text did not take into account the responsibilities

involved in the freedom of expression. "The freedom of expression also has responsibilities.

If we make our airwaves available, we go over the text beforehand. And if we feel

that information is used in such a manner as to incite or destabilize the political

environment, then of course we have to explain [to the parties] that they wouldn't

be allowed to use the airwaves in such instances," he said.

Rainsy went on to accuse the U.N. of double standards. "If UNTAC listens to

Hun Sen or Chea Sim who broadcast everyday for hours on television and radio, they'll

see that their tone and content, to quote Tim Carney, are much stronger than what

I use. They are really defamatory. They mention Prince Ranariddh by name, they mention

my name. They say we are Khmer Rouge, we're controlled by the Khmer Rouge, we're

accomplices of killers and if we come to power we will bring the killers back to

power. For hours everyday, they overdramatize and bring all political debate around

one issue: either you are for the SOC or you are for the Khmer Rouge."

"UNTAC uses two different scales in the same situation. With Hun Sen and SOC,

UNTAC cannot do anything. They can write one hundred letters asking to censor SOC

but SOC couldn't care less. They have their own TV so they just go on. UNTAC has

to show its power somewhere so they apply their standards to my poor five minutes

while SOC speaks for hours," he said.

Some members of the U.N. Information and Education sympathize with this complaint.

U.N. officials have admitted that the current arrangement where the 19 parties opposing

SOC get two to two and a half hours of air time can hardly be called "fair access."

And, in recent months, UNTAC media monitors have been noting a SOC "smear campaign"

against FUNCINPEC.

But while not wishing to comment on corrective measures, Carney is obviously aware

of the problem. At a recent meeting of the Supreme National Council, he spoke of

the importance of fair media access and noted the recent elections in Serbia Montenegro

were deemed not free and fair because of the failure to grant fair access to the

media.

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