Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith on Friday said Voice of America (VOA) and Radio Free Asia (RFA) would be allowed to reopen their offices only after fulfilling their tax obligations.
In a letter dated January 25 to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Kanharith said the two radio stations had also previously operated in the Kingdom for years without registering with the ministry.
“Regarding the [potential] reopening of VOA and RFA offices, the General Department of Taxation has requested the Ministry of Information to review the radio stations’ compliance with tax regulations before granting a licence,” the letter said.
Ministry of Information spokesman Phos Sovann said on Sunday that the ministry welcomes the reopening of VOA and RFA, but they would need to comply with the Kingdom’s tax regulations.
“Because they still have tax obligations to fulfil, we ask them to settle the issue first and then we will give them permission,” he said.
Sovann rejected allegations of government restriction on freedom of the press and freedom of expression, saying the two stations could still broadcast their news programmes through other means such as the internet.
“No freedom? Many journalists recently participated in an event with Prime Minister [Hun Sen]. We can see that news outlets are increasing rapidly,” he said, referring to the prime minister’s third media correspondents’ meeting with over 5,000 journalists and officials on January 11.
The Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ) president Pen Bona echoed Sovann’s views. He said all media outlets have to pay tax.
“Local media, including radio and television, also pay tax, so why should foreign radio [stations] that operate in Cambodia receive an exemption? [VOA and RFA] evaded tax and they closed their office by themselves."
“They should pay tax first before accusing the government of restricting their institutions’ rights and freedom. They should stop accusing the government of abusing them. We find it difficult to figure out the motive behind their hesitation to reopen their offices in Cambodia,” he said.
In November last year, Kanharith told outgoing US ambassador to Cambodia William A Heidt that the government wanted to see the two radio stations reopen to promote freedom of the press in the Kingdom.
The move was dismissed by social analysts as “just for show” if other media outlets remained closed. In 2017, over 30 radio stations which rented airtime to VOA and RFA were shut down.
RFA closed its operations in Cambodia in September 2017, claiming a crackdown on the media had made it impossible to continue its reporting. After closing, two RFA reporters were arrested and charged with “illegally collecting information for a foreign source”.
The duo, Uon Chhin and Yeang Sothearin, were released on bail in August last year and have remained under court supervision on espionage charges.