The Ministry of Information and Council of Ministers has summoned representatives from US government-funded radio stations for an unprecedented meeting to discuss the stations’ content, goals and level of professionalism, government officials said yesterday.
In a letter dated Monday and signed by Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith, Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA) are asked to appear at the Council of Ministers today “to discuss the cooperation between the Cambodian government and foreign media, and the mission of the foreign radio broadcasts”.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that the meeting would touch on a range of topics but appears geared at ensuring the foreign-funded stations cleave to certain sensibilities.
“As the government, we want to hear exactly what the mission statement of VOA and RFA are, as the US government sponsors them. Second, we will brief the radio station about the good relations and cooperation between the Cambodian government and the US in the past, present and future. Third, [we will discuss] respect for the Cambodian culture. Because they broadcast in the Cambodian language, they have to have respect for Cambodian culture and law,” he said.
Though sponsored by the US government, the stations are among the few independent—and oft-times critical—broadcasters in the country.
That refusal to toe the party line in a landscape where most stations are CPP-affiliated has at times put them at odds with the government.
In June, the two stations were banned from broadcasting in the lead-up to, and during, commune elections, although pro-government outlets were allowed to continue coverage.
Siphan insisted today’s meeting had nothing to do with particular broadcasts, but was to discuss “professionalism” in general. He also said the Council of Ministers planned to meet with other foreign-owned broadcasters.
“They spend so much money on that,” he said of the US government’s expenditure on the stations. “They should leave something to remember.”
Local stations would not be called for the meetings, Siphan added, saying this was the first such meeting to take place.
“We want to sit down and discuss frankly what the mission statement is. They’re not private sector, they’re sponsored by the US government.”
US embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh referred questions to the Ministry of Information.
Information Ministry cabinet director Chum Socheath said he did not have details of the meeting, but urged observers not to read too much into it.
“Don’t worry. It’s a good sign; it’s not a bad thing,” he said.
Multiple editors and reporters contacted at RFA and VOA declined to comment, citing the sensitivity of the meeting.
Media experts were hesitant to guess at the ramifications, but noted it was highly unusual for the Council of Ministers to head such a meeting.
“When the Council of Ministers asks for a meeting with specific radio stations, it sounds strange. When the Ministry of Information asks for a meeting, it’s quite normal,” Chhay Sophal, the editor-in-chief of Cambodian News, said.
“I think the government may have an objective for [improving] co-operation with foreign media organisations, because these stations... many times provide a voice to the opposition party. But I really have no idea what the government does in this meeting.”