Equitable access for political parties in media programming will begin on June 21. Under the initiative, agreed between the UN Development Program (UNDP) and the Ministry of Information, state-owned media will give different percentages of time to those vying for votes in the upcoming election.
Opposition parties and observers said the plan was a giant improvement. In the 1998 general election and 2002 commune election, only the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) and Fun-cinpec gained news coverage.
"Media access in the last election was atrocious," said Ian Porter, the manager of IMPACS, an NGO that helps to train staff under the initiative. "There's no excuse for that kind of exclusion of all but two parties from the coverage. The [new] formula has to be considered an advance."
The NEC has allotted 44 percent of airtime during the daily election news bulletins to the CPP, and 27 percent to its coalition partner Funcinpec. The Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), which received no coverage in the last election, has 19 percent of broadcast time. The remaining 10 percent goes to the small parties' campaigns.
Broadcasting will begin as ten minute pre-electoral segments on TVK, said UNDP media advisor Daphne Skillen.
On campaigning day, June 26, and for the month-long campaign period, news coverage will expand to 15 minutes a day. State-owned National Radio of Kampuchea and FM96 will also broadcast bulletins during the campaign period.
Skillen said the project could set an enormous precedent and revitalize the idea of news.
"It's a step-by-step kind of thing. It's not going to be the BBC, but these changes could mean a breakthrough in the way broadcasting is done," she said.
Ung Bun Ang, who heads the SRP's public relations, said his party appreciated the international community's efforts, because increased access means "the whole election process, compared to the previous one, at least on paper, looks good". But he asserted the 'equitable access' formula was undermined by the CPP's control of the media.
However, smaller parties that have only a fraction of airtime compared to the big three feel slighted. The president of the Cambodian Women's Party, Nuon Bunna, said her political freedom had been denied under the equitable access initiative.
"My party cannot accept the media access divided at just 10 percent between small political parties because it is not democratic," she said. "Bigger parties always abuse the political freedom of smaller parties."
The Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia plans to monitor ten TV stations and eleven radio stations during the campaign. The NGO's executive director, Koul Panha, said he approved of the equitable access plan, but felt the 15-minute news segments would not provide enough time: "Some new parties have emerged and they really want to become involved."