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Ruling party hires spin doctors to deflect criticism

Ruling party hires spin doctors to deflect criticism

As part of ongoing reforms to improve its image ahead of elections in 2017 and 2018, the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has appointed three official spokesmen to rebut its critics and publicly defend the party.

For at least a decade, just who officially speaks for the CPP has been an enduring question for the media, especially in the aftermath of the July 2013 election.

While there is no shortage of opposition politicians, rights groups and activists willing to attack the party and point out its flaws on a daily basis, the CPP can often not be reached for a response.

Information Minister and former spokesman Khieu Kanharith has in recent years preferred to only respond to questions via Facebook, while senior lawmakers Cheam Yeap and Chheang Vun, who became defacto spokesmen in his place, now often refuse to speak to reporters.

The new appointments were made on February 4, according to a letter signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen and read to the Post by his adviser Chhim Phal Virun yesterday.

The letter states that Phal Virun and two CPP lawmakers – Sous Yara and Sok Eysan – are the new spokesmen.

The decision was made at last weekend’s reform-minded party congress, which saw the CPP stuff its central committee with hundreds of new, and mostly younger, members.

“It is my great honour to gain the trust of the CPP to fulfil this political work and let people know about our achievements,” Phal Virun, who will serve as the primary spokesman, said yesterday.

Phal Virun is well-known among the public and is often used as a pro-government analyst on TV talk shows.

He serves as an adviser to Hun Sen, a legal expert at the Council of Ministers and director of the Institute of Civic Education.

Phal Virun used to be deputy president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights before leaving the organisation and accusing then-president Kem Sokha of corruption in 2006. Sokha is now deputy opposition leader.

The new spokesmen were chosen to defend the CPP and correct supposedly unfair media reporting, Phal Virun said.

“Critics of the government and the CPP have not valued our achievements over the last 30 years … They are not constructive critics, and they exaggerate the truth.”

Eysan, a former director of CPP-owned Apsara TV, said yesterday that the party had been eyeing potential spokespeople for a long time.

“In the past, journalists did not know who the real CPP spokesperson was, and when they asked questions, no one answered,” he said.

“It’s part of our political reforms – to bring information to the media.”

Media studies academic Moeun Chhean Nariddh said it was clear the CPP had realised that the media had become an important political battleground and praised the appointment of official spokesmen.

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