The Interior Ministry yesterday launched its own television station, Nice TV, which will broadcast “homeland security news” – another player in a media landscape tilting ever more heavily in the government’s favour.
The station was originally announced in 2015 with backing from the China Fujian Zhongya Culture Media company. At the time, the ministry said it would cost $30 million, though the details of funding and how much was contributed by the company have not been divulged.
“It will help promote people’s knowledge in local [issues] and society as a whole through education and dissemination of [information] about the law and other knowledge,” Interior Minister Sar Kheng said yesterday.
The station will cover security issues, the operations of the National Police, government policies and other law enforcement activities, but will also have entertainment programming. It was previously announced that a radio station would also be created, but the ministry didn’t indicate yesterday whether that was still in the works.
Kheng only divulged that $9 million had been spent to set up a new seven-storey building within the Interior Ministry compound to house around 300 staffers for the station.
The Interior Ministry has so far been using other stations, like Phnom Penh Cable Television and Bayon TV, to broadcast its content.
The Nice TV launch follows the shuttering of a range of independent media organisations, ostensibly over tax compliance and licensing issues. The Cambodia Daily closed earlier this month after it was suddenly hit with a $6.3 million tax bill. Meanwhile, numerous radio frequencies broadcasting shows from Voice of Democracy, Voice of America, Radio Free Asia and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party have been shut down.
The opposition party has for years been trying to set up its own television station but has met with hurdles at every turn. A location for the station, Sun TV – whose opening was agreed to by both major political parties in a post-2013 election political deal – is still up in the air.
Huy Vannak, president of the Union of Journalist Federations of Cambodia and a Ministry of Interior official himself, said the opposition station had been given a licence and that the failure to set it up was the party’s own “disability”.
“Whatever they do to establish it is up to them,” he said.
The party tried to set up a TV antenna in Kandal’s Takhmao town, but was thwarted from doing so by local authorities, who were acting on complaints from locals who claimed the tower would emit radiation harmful to their health. The claims, which were untrue, had been spread by a local ruling party official, residents said.
CNRP Deputy President Mu Sochua said attempts to find a new location had stalled and that Sun TV’s fate was emblematic of larger issues at play.
“It is definitely not a level playing field,” she said. “If you look at the big picture, it is democracy that is losing.”
While the opposition party’s attempts for a television presence have failed, news site Fresh News has seen a meteoric rise as the government’s go-to outlet for news dissemination, and has been used to peddle conspiracy theories and unverified stories aimed at the opposition, NGOs and government critics. The outlet also launched an online radio service this week.
Meanwhile, ruling party Senator Ly Yong Phat started his own channel, PNN, in 2015, and Oknha Kith Meng’s CNC TV moved into radio broadcasts last year. Bayon TV, meanwhile, is controlled by Hun Sen’s daughter, Hun Mana.
Vannak dismissed claims of a crackdown on independent media yesterday, saying that outlets needed to follow the law. “I don’t see any legal and legitimate organisations having any issues,” he said.
Moeun Chhean Naridh, the head of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies, agreed that there had been a proliferation of government and affiliated media outlets, but believed they would have a difficult time pushing one-sided news, given a more discerning viewership.
“In the short-term they might be able to do it,” he said. “But in the long-term if they cannot meet the interests of the public then they won’t work.”