The Ministry of Information on Friday said more than 15 radio stations shut down in August will not be allowed to restart operations, with the ministry also saying it will purge its registry of 275 “inactive” publications.
The closures, which predominantly affected critical media voices, came just as the government was ramping up its crackdown on the country’s main opposition party. The radio stations, which broadcast on more than 30 frequencies across the country, had sold airtime to broadcasters Radio Free Asia, Voice of America and, in some cases, to the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party itself.
They were shut down for allegedly not reporting these sales, as per the terms of their contracts with the ministry.
At a media workshop on Friday, Phos Sovann, director general of the Information and Broadcasting Department, said allowing the radio stations to broadcast again would be a disservice to other registered broadcasters that were following the ministry’s rules.
“For the more than 10 radio stations – do not hope to continue again. They will not be allowed,” Sovann said. “If we permit that, the 200 registered stations will trouble the ministry.
In order to illustrate the need for reporting airtime sales, Sovann said extremist groups like Islamic State could buy airtime and broadcast their propaganda across the country were the ministry not kept informed.
“What if they come from Arab [nations] and buy [hours] and then make an attack? ISIS can come and buy the hours. ISIS has a lot of money,” he said.
Sovann also said Minister Khieu Kanharith was currently reviewing a list of 275 print publications that he said are largely inactive or had misused their licences, but declined to divulge more details.
Yem Yoeun, owner of one of the closed radio stations, Klang Moeung, expressed disappointment with the ministry’s decision and said he will speak with other owners of shuttered stations to find a potential solution.
“I have filed requests twice to reopen my radio station, but they went unanswered. It is a bit serious and it is [projected] like we have seriously violated the law,” he said.
He also observed that the stations targeted by the ministry were those selling airtime to international radio broadcasters, such as VOA and RFA, which are often critical of the government.
Meanwhile, the government of the Philippines issued a statement on Friday announcing a memorandum of understanding with the Information Ministry to increase personnel training, communications programs and to fight “fake news” in both countries.
“The proliferation of fake news is a common problem nowadays by most countries in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). It is Cambodia’s number one challenge too,” read a statement from the Philippines’ Presidential Communications Operations Office, adding that it would share information and best practices on how to fight false information.
Ministry of Information spokesman Ouk Kimseng could not be reached for comment yesterday.