The ruling party took another step in gearing up its election machine Wednesday with Prime Minister Hun Sen issuing a public call for CPP-affiliated television and radio stations to begin airing interviews taking on the opposition SRP.
Hun Sen said he has been devising a plan to respond to SRP criticisms by making use of the raft of high-level opposition members that have defected to the CPP in recent months.
He added that a chief architect of the media campaign, which would include putting SRP defectors on air to denounce their former party, is former opposition lawmaker Ngor Sovann, who jumped to the CPP in February.
“I will give work for you to respond to the opposition party,” Hun Sen said of the defectors.
“Related to the opposition, I’ll let you respond. You can use all the television networks. You don’t need to buy airtime; they need your interview,” he said.
The prime minister said state-run TVK would not be used for this purpose, but ordered Information Minister Khieu Kanharith not to take exception with this planned media blitz.
“This is freedom of information,” Hun Sen said.
“The private [stations] must be [allowed to] broadcast,” he said, adding a quick taunt to the opposition: “You have one station; I have 10 stations.”
Hun Sen also said lawmaker Tan Vanthara, who defected from the SRP to the ruling party earlier in the week, has been made a government adviser and will receive a post in the Water Resources Ministry in the next mandate if the CPP is victorious at the ballot box in July.
Contacted by telephone after the premier’s nationally broadcast speech, National Assembly First Vice President Nguon Nhel, who heads the CPP campaign committee, said his party’s use of the media was not an offensive against the opposition, but rather a means to defend itself against SRP attacks.
“This is the CPP’s habit,” he said. “This is the right of a political party before the election campaign. When there is an unjust attack, we will reserve the right to talk back—we will have no patience.”
SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said he has no concern about the ruling party’s new plans to use the media against the opposition, claiming that Cambodian broadcast media aren’t where voters go for news in the first place.
“We know that all media belongs to the CPP. We are not interested in that,” Eng Chhay Eang said.
“If people want to know, they listen to [Voice of America] or [Radio Free Asia]. The people will watch only concerts” on Cambodian television, he said.
Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said that with the election looming, it is important for the media to provide equitable coverage for all parties.
“The media is biased toward the ruling party,” Koul Panha said.
“Political coverage is 90 percent biased toward the CPP. They broadcast negative coverage of the SRP,” he said, calling such bias “unethical and unprofessional” journalism.
Sok Ey San, director of CPP-affiliated Apsara radio and TV networks, denied that CPP-linked stations attack the SRP in their broadcasts.
“They criticize the CPP,” he said of the SRP. “CPP-affiliated stations just broadcast to support the CPP, not to criticize the SRP.”