Assembly Spokesman Wants Answers About Alcohol Ads

National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun on Thursday said he would summon Information Minister Khieu Kanharith to parliament for questioning over the saturation of radio and television with advertisements for alcoholic beverages and, switching topics, threatened to throw a foreign NGO worker out of the country.

At his monthly press briefing, the CPP lawmaker, who heads the Assembly’s commission on information and media, said he was overwhelmed by the amount of beer and alcohol advertising, particularly on television, at a time when the government was ratcheting up its efforts to cut down on road deaths caused by drunk driving.

“All this beer advertising is great,” he said sarcastically. “I sit in front of the television for 10 minutes and almost eight minutes is advertising for alcohol. I understand that the media have to make money, but you have to think about the people who die.”

Mr. Vun said he would ask Mr. Kanharith to help curtail the advertising but had not yet set a date.

“I will invite the minister of the Ministry of Information to tell him about the alcohol advertising on the radio and television and ask him to reconsider,” he said.

Contacted afterward, Buth Bovuth, who heads the Information Ministry’s general department of information and broadcasting, said Mr. Kanharith would honor any summons to appear before the Assembly.

He said that during primetime—from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.—television stations are only al-lowed to air the logos of beer companies without any sound. Starting next year, he added, television and radio stations will not be allowed to air any alcohol ads between those hours.

Switching topics at the press briefing, Mr. Vun, whose commission at the Assembly also deals with foreign affairs, threatened to deport an unnamed foreigner out of the country for allegedly agitating Cambodians against the government.

“I do not say his name,” he said, when pressed by a reporter. “He works for an organization that is the most active in the Areng area. There is only one person.”

That appeared to be a reference to Alex Gonzalez-Davidson, a Spanish national who co-founded the local NGO Mother Nature, which has staunchly opposed a planned hydropower dam in Koh Kong province’s Areng Valley. Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson and a few other activists were recently detained by police for attempting to block a convoy of government officials from entering the proposed dam site.

The NGO is helping local residents who want the government to cancel the project, which would require the flooding of thousands of hectares of forest, including some habitat for endangered species and the ancestral homeland of a community of ethnic Chong minorities.

“Most lawmakers have concerns because of a foreigner who has come to Cambodia and is interfering with Cambodian politics,” Mr. Vun said.

“I am asking authorities to investigate this case,” he added. “If he breaks Cambodian law with his organization…I will ask the immigration police to arrest and deport him out of the country immediately.”

Mr. Gonzalez-Davidson, who has been in the country since 2001 and speaks fluent Khmer, said he was baffled that Mr. Vun would call him a foreigner.

“I think I’ve been in the country long enough to consider myself a Cambodian, so for him to say that has no effect on me,” he said, adding that the only reason he has not become a citizen was because officials keep demanding he pay a bribe for the privilege.

As for Mr. Vun’s threat to have him deported, he said it would be “one of the best things that could happen” to his cause. He said he was sure the move would backfire on the government by attracting the very international attention officials wanted to avoid and galvanizing the dam’s opponents.

“So I think there is nothing to worry about,” he said. “But let’s see what happens.”

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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