Officials from four government bodies along with a personal adviser to Prime Minister Hun Sen yesterday urged two US government-funded radio stations to be more professional and law-abiding during a closed-door meeting at the Council of Ministers.
While little information was forthcoming regarding the content of the highly restricted meeting, several sources with knowledge of the proceedings, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the stations were dressed down for broadcasting stories considered to be too pro-opposition and anti-government.
In particular, the sources said, they focused on recent reporting of the Mam Sonando case and the murder of environmental activist Chut Wutty, saying they failed to present the government’s side to both stories.
Spokesman for the Council of Ministers Phay Siphan said he was unable to address specifics of the meeting, but stressed that it was “just a friendly meet”.
Asked whether the stations were accused of favouring the opposition, Siphan demurred, saying it was a “confidential” matter.
“We do not condemn anyone at RFA [Radio Free Asia] or VOA [Voice of America],” he continued. “But we need to improve the communication between the government and those media to not mislead or misunderstand each other.”
Siphan insisted the government had no intention to shut down the stations, but wanted to ensure they “abide by the law and regulations in Cambodia”.
“[They should] catch themselves.”
Similar meetings will be held in the near future with other foreign government-funded radio stations, he said, over concerns that they “don’t pay enough attention to our culture and law”.
“Cambodia cannot act according to the US standard, just as the US cannot act on the Cambodian standard.”
Sean McIntosh, a spokesman for the US Embassy who attended the meeting, declined to discuss it, referring questions back to the Cambodian government.
Asked whether he was concerned about the criticisms levied at US-funded stations, McIntosh said: “The embassy supports and promotes freedom of expression in Cambodia. With regards to funding VOA and RFA in Asia, that is our primary objective.”
Officials at the ministries of Information, Foreign Affairs and Justice – who all had representatives at the meeting – could not be reached.
In addition to the government participants and station representatives, the head of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, Pen Samitthy, and historian Ros Chantrabot, a personal adviser to Hun Sen, were both in attendance and provided presentations on the at times contentious history of US-Cambodian relations and the aims of professional journalism, according to the anonymous sources.
Reached by phone, Chantrabot declined to comment on the discussions but said he was dismayed to see that just hours after the private meeting wrapped, information about it had appeared on local news website ECOKhmer.com.
“It’s an internal meeting as a dialogue between the government and those radio stations. We want to have a good relationship with each other and the meeting must not broadcasted,” he said.
In the ECO Khmer story, a confidential source is quoted as saying the stations will face “legal action” if they do not reform.