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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - TVK "between the devil and the deep blue sea"

TVK "between the devil and the deep blue sea"

AS tension in the government coalition continues, Cambodia's journalists - particularly

those at state-owned media such as Television Kampuchea (TVK) - are finding themselves

in the middle of the political crossfire.

In recent weeks, both Prime Ministers and their parties are said to have taken a

greater interest in what TVK serves up to the television public.

Hun Sen has called in TVK executives to give them an earful on at least one occasion

recently. For instance, it is now apparently TVK policy - at Hun Sen's behest - not

to use the phrase "free and fair elections" when referring to the 1993

UNTAC election which Funcinpec won.

TVK was also the subject of a peculiar tit-for-tat campaign: Hun Sen, unhappy with

one television program he considered overly favorable to Prince Norodom Ranariddh,

ensured that a second program more to his liking was screened days later. Ranariddh,

in turn, complained to the Ministry of Information about the Hun Sen-sponsored program.

It began on April 13 during the Khmer New Year when TVK - for reasons which are still

unexplained - re-screened a program it had first broadcast in September. The television

show's commentary concentrated on Ran-ariddh's role and achievements in the coalition

government.

"It was a mistake," admitted one TVK journalist on the decision to screen

the program during a time of political unrest.

Hun Sen thought so too, calling in at least two TVK executives and the Secretary

of State for Information Khieu Kanharith to complain about the program.

At the meeting, Hun Sen is also said to have complained about another TVK show which

had referred to the 1993 elections as being free and fair. (Hun Sen has recently

revived his complaints of irregularities in the election.)

"He was angry," said Khieu Kanharith of Hun Sen.

He said Hun Sen had complained that the April 13 show depicted him merely as "the

King's representative" and "never in his own name."

"'Why was there no word on what I have done?'" Kanharith quoted Hun Sen

as saying.

Kanharith agreed that the April 13 program should have not been put to air, "especially

during the Khmer New Year when political tension was high."

Kanharith, from Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party (CPP), hurriedly set about scripting

and producing a new show which was screened twice, April 15 and 16.

The 16-minute program - Two Years of Achievement by the Royal Government - focused

solely on Hun Sen; it did not mention Ranariddh's name once.

The program began with archival pictures of January 7, 1979 when the Vietnamese army

entered Phnom Penh to oust the Pol Pot regime and install a new government which

included Hun Sen.

The program praised the work of the Royal Government, "in particular Samdech

Hun Sen," in promoting education. It featured footage of Hun Sen opening schools

and hospitals, bestowing diplomas to students and meeting farmers at his Kraingyov

development center in Kandal.

The program's commentary also referred to the Sangkum Reastr Niyum period (1955-1970),

and said promises made by the governments of then Prince Norodom Sihanouk during

that time were not honored.

On April 26, Ranariddh sent a letter to the Ministry of Information in response to

the program.

According to Minister of Information Ieng Mouly (BLDP), Ranariddh complained that

the program had referred only to Hun Sen's achievements. Ranariddh's letter also

reportedly complained that the program cast an unfair light upon the achievements

of the Sangkum, and called for the people responsible to be "penalized"

according to the law.

"We are between the devil and the deep blue sea," said one TVK executive.

"Both sides are upset - both Prime Ministers have the same power and I have

to respond to both of them. If the First Prime Minister says something, I have to

broadcast it all.

"If the Second Prime Minister says something I have to broadcast it all - even

if it's not interesting, I have to broadcast, I cannot cut it," he said.

A TVK journalist said: "It is very difficult to be balanced as the real situation

today is that there is only the Second Prime Minister standing in the motherland

with the people.

"Everyday, there is only Hun Sen working with the people and so there are many

programs on him."

He said TVK has about 100 journalists: 14 from Funcinpec, 10 from BLDP and the rest

from CPP.

"There is not really [political] pressure, but as most of the staff are from

CPP, naturally their faith in the party remains," said another journalist.

TVK official policy is that it screens, in full, all public speeches by the Prime

Ministers which are given to the television network.

Both Hun Sen, and Ranariddh before he went to France, are said to have been on the

telephone to Ministry of Information or TVK officials to ensure their speeches got

played, or give instructions on how they could be edited.

One member of the National Assembly, who asked not to be named, said he was concerned

about the lack of neutrality in Cambodia's state media.

Attacking the April 15 program on Hun Sen as "obviously a propaganda film,"

he said the Ministry of Information was itself no longer impartial.

"Khieu Kanharith is the strong man in the ministry, which is a CPP administrative

machine," he said.

"The election campaign is already open. We are not able to rely on the local

press which is in state of anarchy. Only TV and radio remain [a source] of fair information."

Information Minister Ieng Mouly said he hoped that a law would be passed making TVK

fully independent of government control, but none had been drafted yet.

Noting that both of the main parties had their own TV channels, he said TVK "must

no longer be under party pressure."

A board of directors should be able to select the programs which TVK screens, he

said.

Khieu Kanharith, however, said it would be "impossible" for TVK to become

independent as long as it was owned by the government.

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