Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - NEC warns funding shortfall could harm media access

NEC warns funding shortfall could harm media access

NEC warns funding shortfall could harm media access

The National Election Committee (NEC) is concerned it will not have enough money

to ensure equal access for all parties in the run-up to the general election, which

is scheduled for July 27.

Secretary-general Tep Nytha said the government would contribute $5 million of the

$12.5 million required to run the election. The rest would need to come from donors.

To date they had contributed only $500,000.

"We have some worries about a lack of funds for the election," Nytha told

the Post, "but it will proceed according to the timetable we have set up."

His comments came after a roundtable meeting between the NEC and around a dozen media

representatives on December 28 to discuss equal access to private media during campaigning.

Nytha said the NEC wanted fair television and radio access for all political parties,

but stressed the body was unable to compel the media to broadcast equitably.

"Our aim is to manage an equal broadcast of political spots during campaigning,"

he said.

The NEC was widely criticized in the run-up to the commune elections in February

2002 after perceived media bias towards the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP).

Nytha said TVK had agreed it would cooperate with the NEC in giving equal space for

free to political parties to broadcast their political platforms. However private

TV broadcasters said they would charge, and also wanted the NEC to vet the messages

of individual parties to avoid charges of bias.

"We will have problems if there is no money to buy space from private broadcasters,"

he said. "But we cannot close private television stations during the [30-day]

election campaign, as that will affect their business and media freedom."

And he warned that only the wealthy political parties would benefit if the NEC could

not afford to buy TV time. Smaller parties simply did not have the money.

At the roundtable meeting, representatives from broadcast media said they were concerned

they could be accused of bias when broadcasting the messages of political parties.

Others from the opposition print media said they would print the political platform

of any party, provided they were paid for it.

Mam Sonando, director of the independent station Beehive Radio, said it was difficult

to bring independent information to people, because the state TV was controlled by

government.

"I want the NEC to play its role based on the law if it wants to ensure a free

media," he said. "In my opinion TVK's broadcasts are contrary to the Constitution,

because none of the information on the TV screen is from the people - it is one-sided."

Ou Bun Long, a senator with the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), told the Post

he had noted that, with more than seven months to go, the CPP and the royalist Funcinpec

party were already using state media for their pre-election campaigning.

"I appealed to the NEC and the donors to buy time on private TV and radio in

order to provide equal access time to all political parties," he said.

The executive director of election monitor Comfrel, Koul Panha, said he too had noticed

that TVK had started broadcasting the activities of politicians in the coalition

government. Most prominent were Prime Minister Hun Sen and Prince Norodom Ranariddh,

who were seen talking to villagers about election-related matters and trying to persuade

villagers to vote for them.

Panha said Comfrel had noted the three main parties had already begun to use the

print media for campaigning. He said Comfrel would try to discuss with the NEC the

activities of the leaders of CPP and Funcinpec, as it disadvantaged other parties,

45 of which have registered with the Ministry of Interior (MoI).

But his complaint was rejected by Nytha, who said the NEC could not evaluate it.

First, he said, it had no basis in law, and second it was normal for the leaders

of the coalition parties to appear on TV.

TVK has carried numerous broadcasts since the beginning of December showing Hun Sen

and Ranariddh speaking at the public inaugurations of bridges and roads, and appealing

to people to vote and ensure they stay in power.

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