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
"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
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
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
"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
Khieu Kanharith, however, said it would be "impossible" for TVK to become
independent as long as it was owned by the government.