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Election media management draws fire

Election media management draws fire

E lection monitoring NGOs and media organizations are protesting the National Election

Committee's (NEC) interpretation and enforcement of a commune election law that allows

the organization to vet all voter education material before its dissemination.

The commune election law's Chapter 8 (Clause 8.9) gives the NEC full approval power

over such material. But NGOs involved in voter education programs say that rather

than scrutinizing their productions for clarity and authenticity, the NEC is abusing

its mandate by raising "meaningless" objections to actors clothing and

the wording of scripts.

Those objections, they say, are derailing their voter education schedules while causing

needless expenditure in the run-up to the voter registration process that begins

on July 21 for the February 3, 2002 commune elections.

"Voter registration begins within a week and many such programs [and materials]

are focused on voter education. Any delay in clearing the materials could therefore

directly affect the education process," said Eric Kessler, Director of the National

Democratic Institute (NDI), which is providing assistance and technical expertise

to voter education programs. "Above all, how much is this review process costing

the NGOs or the media organizations and in turn the international donors? That kind

of donor money could be used to pay the EC staff, buy computers, print papers or

election materials."

The election law requires all NGOs and media organizations to obtain NEC's clearance

for all voter education materials. For the commune elections, the scope of the law

has been expanded to include leaflets, books, pictures or even slogans printed on

T-shirts and caps etc.

An NEC sub-commission has been set up that will examine each submission and theoretically

must give clearance within 36 working hours.

Chea Vannath, President of the Centre for Social Development (CSD), criticizes the

NEC evaluation process for its ambiguity.

"Nothing [in the regulations and procedures for media and the NGOs] is spelled

in black and white as to what exactly needs to be complied with and how exactly,"

Vannath said.

Kessler emphasizes that NGOs agree with the spirit and intent of the NEC's election

material supervisory role, but says that the NEC's handing of the issue is counterproductive.

"...NGOs will welcome the factual review of their materials... they will be

only too happy if the NEC can improve their materials to make them more effective,"

Kessler said. "After all, the objective is to be accurate, but [such] restrictions

can prove contrary to the environment of trust that all parties are attempting to

build."

Paon Phuong Bopha, Media Campaign Director of the Women's Media Center, also sought

to clarify how much time the NEC sub-committee will take to clear the materials submitted

for approval.

"The [36 working hours] time limit provided by the NEC for routine clearance

of materials itself will stretch up to three to four days," she said.

At a July 19 NDI organized meeting to discuss the issue, Prom Nhean Vicheat, President

of the NEC Sub-commission responsible for reviewing the materials, said the NEC was

striving to prevent the mistakes made by some media organizations during the run

up to the 1998 elections.

"[in 1998] in a video slot for voter education the producers failed to mention

the time frame for voter registration. As a result, a large number of voters thought

the registration was open only for a day and failed to register themselves,"

he said.

The discussions concluded with donor, NGO and media representatives recommending

that the process of NEC review of election materials be strictly voluntary.

However NEC Vice-Chairman Kassie Neou warned that if the process was made voluntary,

assigning responsibility for potential errors in election materials that have Kingdom-wide

implications would be difficult.

The NEC has pledged to make a ruling on the matter shortly.

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