Kem Gunawadh, the longtime director-general of state broadcaster TVK, resigned from his position on Saturday after the television channel failed to broadcast the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony overseen by King Norodom Sihamoni.
The shock resignation has been welcomed by many as a rare show of accountability in Cambodia.
At the annual ceremony – held this year in Kandal province’s Takhmao town – seven different foods are laid before royal oxen, and the fortunes of Cambodia’s crops are interpreted based on what the animals choose to eat.
Following Gunawadh’s resignation, the Ministry of Information, which oversees TVK, issued a public apology, blaming a lack of communication and teamwork.
“At this time, the ministry is preparing to improve our [practices] in order to avoid [issues like this] occurring again,” the statement says.
Gunawadh declined to comment yesterday, while Information Minister Khieu Kanharith could not be reached.
A TVK staff member speaking on the condition of anonymity said internal divisions behind the scenes at TVK may also have contributed to Gunawadh’s decision to leave, as staff have been “unable to unite to work together” in a fractured environment. The source added that there may have been confusion over whether the ceremony needs to be live broadcast if it takes place outside the capital.
TVK deputy director-general Pang Nath has been appointed acting head, which a number of staff are not happy with, the source said, adding that they could strike if that position becomes permanent.
Kanharith has remained tight-lipped on the resignation, telling news site Thmey Thmey that Gunawadh merely “wanted to relax for a while”.
Royal palace official Oum Daravuth, an adviser to the secretariat of the Queen Mother, said: “His Majesty the King is not angry and had no reaction at all” to TVK not broadcasting the ceremony.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, a media academic, said he was happy to see that Gunawadh had “shown a model of being accountable” to Cambodian society but added that other professional issues at the helm of the state-controlled broadcaster may have been affecting him.
“Maintaining a media blackout of opposition might have been a very stressful issue for Mr Gunawadh [as a professional journalist].”
On Thursday, TVK aired videos from the opposition party highlighting violent police crackdowns on recent protests as part of equal airtime given to political parties before yesterday’s subnational election.
Opposition public affairs head Mu Sochua rejected the idea yesterday that airing the footage had anything to do with the resignation, saying that the failure to broadcast the ceremony was “an insult”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KEVIN PONNIAH