A NEW United Nations report has confirmed how skewed Cambodia's local media coverage
is toward the Cambodian People's Party (CPP).
UN researchers monitored the main newscasts during May on National Radio of Cambodia
and television stations TVK, which is state-owned, TV3, owned by the Phnom Penh municipality
and TV5, owned by the Defense Ministry and Thai interests.
CPP officials featured 448 times. Second Prime Minister Hun Sen alone was featured
170 times and party president Chea Sim appeared 36 times, one more than King Norodom
Sihanouk's 35 appearances.
Members of First Prime Minister Ung Huot's Reastr Niyum party - which is seen as
close to the CPP - featured 91 times.
In contrast, the opposition Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy parties were mentioned just
14 times between them. All were negative portrayals except those including the King.
The Post also has anecdotal evidence since the June 25 start of the month-long campaign
period that state-media newscasts remain barely-disguised platforms for CPP electioneering.
TVK aired a report of Second Prime Minister Hun Sen's visit to dig a well in Kampong
Speu on June 26, in which he was asked: "Why are you not joining in campaigning?"
Hun Sen replied that as prime minister he was responsible for maintaining security
and order and that he did not want to be "both a referee and a player".
Two days later, TV3 ran a prime-time entertainment show called "Test Your Ability"
during which frequent appeals were made to the audience and participants to vote
"You will have positions, schools, roads... Thevada [the CPP's goddess logo]
will help you," the announcer said.
Conditions for access to the electronic media were far from fair, said the report's
author, the UN special representative for human rights, Thomas Hammarberg.
Although political parties have been given five-minute slots on state-owned radio
and TV during the current one-month campaign, this could not correct the previous
imbalance, he said.
This imbalance was because media licenses were invariably granted on a politically
partial basis, he said. Before the July, 1997, rupture between Hun Sen and Prince
Norodom Ranariddh, both had colluded in blocking media access to other parties.
Currently, 11 of the 12 radio stations are pro-CPP. All six TV stations are directly
or indirectly controlled by the CPP.
The report quoted Secretary of State for Information Khieu Kanharith saying that
there were no available radio frequencies, pending a planned expansion of the national
radio network in 2000.
However, the UN report said: "there are large numbers of vacant frequencies
on both FM and AM bands".
The report revealed another imbalance: "News about opposition politicians and
their views are virtually excluded from the media to an extent which cannot be justified
by arguments about different news values."
Hammarberg called for program producers to ensure "full and fair" coverage
for all politicians.
Electronic news usually followed a hierarchical protocol: the King first, Chea Sim
next, then Ung Huot and Hun Sen.
Hammarberg said that private TV stations Bayon and Apsara usually omit Ung Huot altogether.
"A disproportionate time is spent on Hun Sen and his party allies," Hammarberg
said. "When Hun Sen ended his self-imposed silence after the death of his mother
in late April, all six TV stations and most radio stations covered his two-hour speech
Hun Sen's new plan to fight poverty attracted a "steady stream of announcements",
including the screening of concerts where famous singers and comedians offer praise
to the CPP, he said.
On June 19, Hun Sen made a campaign speech so lengthy that some TV and radio stations
had to cancel their regular news bulletins to show it, he said.
Hammarberg said that by comparison, campaign speeches by leading opposition members
were never covered.
Local news producers, for instance, argued that Ranariddh's return from exile on
March 30 was not an occasion they considered newsworthy. It was noted that CNN led
its international coverage of the day with the story.
TV and radio were also used to inhibit opposition activities, he said. "In the
days before the June 21 demonstration organized by Rainsy, state and private TV and
radio repeatedly... discouraged the public from attending."
The report noted that Funcinpec's own radio station (FM90) had been looted and closed
Funcinpec plans to begin a smaller station are unlikely to be realized before the
Similarly, Funcinpec's TV9 had $1 million worth of equipment stolen last July and
now operates under self-censorship. Staff told UN researchers that TV9 has never
refused a request by TVK to broadcast pro-CPP news.
Sam Rainsy has five times been refused permission to run a radio station, Hammarberg
NUMBER OF APPEARANCES ON STATE RUN MEDIA
King & Queen
Hun Sen/Ung Huot
Buddhist Liberal Party
Sam Rainsy Party
Free Republican Development Party
Khmer Citizen's Party
Son Sann Party