Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith told the outgoing US ambassador on Tuesday that the government intended to reopen Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA) for “effective communication and to promote freedom of the press in Cambodia”, local media reported.
But the move has been dismissed as “just a show” if other stations remained closed.
“Kanharith stressed to the US ambassador that Cambodia wanted both radio stations to [reopen their] offices in Cambodia to make communication [easy],” reported Fresh News.
A US Embassy spokesman in Phnom Penh could not reply by press time. However, local media reported that Ambassador William A Heidt told Kanharith that the US was looking into “issues” regarding the two radio stations and that they would resume broadcasting on local channels after they had been solved in order to strengthen press freedom in the Kingdom.
Fresh News reported that “Ambassador Heidt is optimistic that when all the issues are resolved successfully, the two radio [stations] will relaunch their broadcasts through FM in order to promote freedom of the press in Cambodia”.
Cambodian Center for Independent Media director Nop Vy said allowing RFA and VOA to broadcast again would be “just a show” if other radio stations remained closed.
“The two radio stations had broadcast on around 30 local FM channels in Cambodia. If they just have offices but cannot broadcast on those stations, nothing will be improved as people still cannot hear their output.
“If the government goes one step further by allowing local radio stations to resume broadcasting [RFA and VOA] programmes as independent media, then I think press freedom would be restored. If it means they only have offices, it is just a show,” he said.
Last year, more than 30 radio stations which rented airtime to RFA and VOA were shut down. RFA closed its operation in Cambodia in September last year, claiming that a crackdown on the media had made it impossible to continue operations in the Kingdom.
After closing, two RFA reporters were arrested and charged with “illegally collecting information for a foreign source”. They were released on bail after the July 29 elections in which the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won all 125 seats in the National Assembly.
Ministry of Information spokesman Ouk Kimseng and other ministry officials could not be reached for comment.
Heidt is to step down as US ambassador and be replaced by W Patrick Murphy.