Two local radio stations were yesterday ordered to stop their broadcasts of independent news outlets Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, with an Information Ministry official saying the two were operating illegally in the country and should not be allowed to broadcast their shows.
The latest development comes as more than 15 radio stations were shuttered two weeks ago, allegedly for not informing the Information Ministry who they were selling airtime to, in violation of their contracts. The closures disproportionately affected RFA and VOA, with fellow independent outlet Voice of Democracy facing a similar situation when its shows were taken off the air. With the order to the latest two stations, RFA and VOA are virtually silenced amid what many have labelled a crackdown on the free press ahead of crucial elections last year.
A letter signed by Information Minister Khieu Kanharith to the Mam Sonando-owned Beehive Radio yesterday said each outlet had not officially “registered its representative office” with the Information Ministry, and that if the station continued to air those shows it would lose its licence.
A similar directive was sent to a radio station run by the Women’s Media Center (WMC), which two weeks ago was facing similar accusations as the 15 shuttered radio stations but was not closed down due to its social contributions to reporting on women’s issues.
Ministry spokesman Ouk Kimseng further clarified that RFA and VOA had “an attitude to violate the law”, adding that the former had failed to inform the ministry about a change of management.
“For example, RFA appointed a bureau chief in Phnom Penh,” he said referring to RFA staffer Chi Vita. “But they did not come to inform us that he was appointed to be the chief.”
Kimseng called both publications “insolent”, and maintained actions taken against them were warranted in light of them not respecting the law.
Both Beehive and Women’s Radio FM 102 only rebroadcast the two outlets’ shows, with WMC’s Executive Director Chea Sundaneth saying they had “no option” but to stop, starting today.
“Yes, we have received the letter. We have to follow it, or what can we do? If we don’t stop, we have to be shut down,” she said.
Mam Sonando, who recently stepped down as president of the Beehive Social Democratic Party, echoed her concerns.
“They warned me if I am strong-headed, they will revoke my licence. If I am strong-headed, I will be hammered,” he said.