Authorities in Kandal province’s Takhmao City have banned the opposition CNRP from erecting a television antenna on land they purchased there for what is meant to be Cambodia’s first opposition-aligned station—a key element of the July 2014 political deal.
Takhmao governor Heng Thiem said authorities had decided on the ban following a February 19 complaint lodged by 21 families living around the land intended for the antenna for the CNRP’s “Sun TV” station in the city, located just south of Phnom Penh.
“We have decided not to give authorization to the CNRP to install the antenna for its television station, because there are people protesting against it,” Mr. Thiem said. “It has nothing to do with politics.”
“The local people are protesting against the plan to install a television antenna, since those are families living around the plot of land for the planned antenna, and those people fear they will suffer from radioactivity that could be a risk to their health,” he added.
“Those families demand that the party must find another location located in the fields, far away from their residences,” he said, adding that the city authorities would allow the CNRP TV antenna to be erected “only if they find a compromise with the protesters.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said he was surprised to see authorities so responsive to a group of protesters and asked why officials have not been as responsive to larger protests over other issues in the past. He said he hoped to find a solution to install the antenna as planned.
“I would like to talk to the authorities about this. It is very strange: Only a few families complain, and they cancel the proposal. If this is the case, let’s look at all the protests around the country,” Mr. Sovann said.
“If a few families complaining makes them cancel a proposal, why don’t we cancel all the land concessions that have had many thousands of people complaining for many years already?” he asked.
Mr. Sovann added that many other antennas, such as one belonging to CPP-aligned Apsara TV in Chamkar Mon district’s Boeng Keng Kang I commune, have broadcast for years from the center of Phnom Penh.
“If you look at all the antenna towers around Phnom Penh, you can see that the antenna of Apsara TV is located in the middle of town, surrounded by the houses of high-ranking officials,” Mr. Sovann said.
“It’s not only that one tower; there are a lot of antennas around the city and no one ever complains about it. Why is it only Sun TV?”
Television, which remains the main source of news for Cambodians, is presently the sole domain of the ruling CPP. The opposition has for years complained of being blacked out of coverage or presented as criminals. It has long requested a station of its own and secured a license as part of the July 2014 political deal.
The deal ended the CNRP’s yearlong parliamentary boycott after the disputed 2013 election and ushered in the “culture of dialogue” between the parties—an arrangement long since abandoned, with CNRP lawmakers imprisoned and opposition leader Sam Rainsy in exile to avoid a sentence of his own.
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith did not respond to a request for comment about the CNRP TV antenna. Yet CPP spokesman Sok Eysan, who was previously Apsara TV’s general-director, said authorities were not applying a double standard.
“The matter of the antenna has nothing to do with discrimination, because there was a protest by the local villagers, so the local authorities needed to weigh the issue,” Mr. Eysan said. “Yim Sovann should understand this and not have dark thoughts about it.”
“Why is he comparing this case to Apsara TV by saying that Apsara TV is in the heart of the city? Apsara’s antenna has been installed since 1996, so it’s a totally different time. It’s 20 years difference,” he said.
“He raises the wrong point, because 2016 cannot be compared to 1996. At that time, it was no issue to install an antenna anywhere—since there were fewer [people]—except at the Royal Palace.”
Mr. Eysan added that if the CNRP resolved the issue with its neighbors, there would be no problem. “If the installation can make people happy, it’d be OK,” he said.
Committee for Free and Fair Elections executive director Koul Panha called for the CPP to facilitate talks between the CNRP and the protesting families in the interest of acceptable elections in 2017 and 2018.
“TV is very important to guarantee that the playing field is balanced between the ruling party and the opposition party,” he said. “Many people still do not have access to the internet, but they watch TV, and they should be able to see the opposition’s side.”
“Now, only the ruling party controls TV, and at least one should be affiliated from the non-ruling party. So they need to commit to help each other. This was in their agreement, and they should build mutual trust,” Mr. Panha said.
“If we want fair elections, both the ruling and non-ruling parties must be happy with the process.”