Election monitoring organization Comfrel has called on the next government to draft a Broadcast Media Law, to ensure that future elections benefit from the rules that covered some of the state media in the run-up to the general election.
Comfrel's executive director, Koul Panha, said broadcast media was too important to avoid such legislation, particularly since it was so influential on the illiterate majority.
"We currently have a Press Law, but the drafting of a law on broadcast media would play a role in regulating both state and private broadcast media," Panha said. He suggested it cover the areas of licensing, codes of conduct, journalism standards and ethics.
Minister of Information Lu Laysreng concurred with the idea.
"Whether parties are big or small, they should all have the same access to state media, just as they do in the United States," said the Funcinpec minister. "[But] the ruling party has money, which allows it to issue propaganda as it likes."
Panha's comments came as Comfrel's media monitoring unit released its final report analyzing media access for the 22 political parties that contested the July 27 vote. Comfrel found that the coverage of state media-TVK and two radio stations-was much improved in the period mid-June to July 25.
Panha said that was thanks mainly to the introduction of TV and radio news broadcasts supported by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) between June 22 and July 25. Other significant improvements were that radio broadcasts included political debates, roundtable discussions, interviews, public forums, call-in shows and political adverts.
He praised the so-called 'equity program'-under which parties received news coverage on state-owned media mainly in proportion to their representation-and said the concept should be continued even though the election had finished.
The report also praised the "groundbreaking" content of the programming, which included interviews with members of the public, NGOs, monks and others.
Despite the improvements seen in state-owned media, Comfrel expressed disappointment with private radio and TV, much of which is at least part-owned by the ruling Cambodian People's Party or its members. Virtually all of their coverage revolved around Prime Minister Hun Sen and members of the CPP.
"When it comes to private media, there are still problems," Panha said. "They discriminate and are affiliated with the CPP, and are obviously biased towards the CPP. It means the opposition parties have no chance."
Comfrel's optimistic take on the UNDP-sponsored shows was echoed by the Cambodian Women's Media Center, which also owns radio station FM102. Co-director Chea Sundaneth welcomed the equitable provisions, but said she too was unhappy with the performance of most private media, which were not covered under its provisions.
"Each station said it would not accept the broadcasts from other parties, but in fact they simply used different features in favor of the ruling party," she said, adding that each station was partial towards the party affiliated with it. "The role of media is to provide accurate information. FM102 is neutral-we educate and provide information for all voters."
She added that Voice of America and Radio Free Asia seemed to favor the opposition, although they did ensure equal access for all parties.
Minister Laysreng welcomed the improvements on access to media compared with 1998, but disagreed that VOA or RFA were biased. Their news coverage, he said, was both balanced and wide-ranging.
Comfrel: other points
* Positive: smaller parties had access to several radio stations, including VOA, RFA and FM102; the opposition and Funcinpec could access FM90.5, FM93.5 and FM105.
* Negative: pre-election campaigning and gift-giving by senior CPP officials broadcast on TV3 and TV5; pro-CPP, anti-Funcinpec and anti-SRP comedy sketches on Bayon and Apsara TV stations; presenters on Apsara TV wearing CPP T-shirts and hats; Funcinpec's Ta Prohm Radio broadcast attacks against Hun Sen, the government and opposition leader Sam Rainsy; Prince Norodom Ranariddh and other senior Funcinpec officials used racist and defamatory language.