CPP Dominates TVK’s News, Pre-Poll Coverage

Viewers of state-run TVK’s lunchtime news on Wednesday might have walked away thinking that Cambodia had only one political party.

CPP Honorary President and National Assembly President Heng Samrin celebrated his birthday. The CPP’s Cabinet Minister Sok An and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith held meetings. Minister of Social Affairs Ith Sam Heng and Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun, both members of the CPP, visited constituencies.

The national news show wrap­ped up with a brief clip of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s father Hun Neang at a pagoda inauguration ceremony, followed by CPP officials handing out gifts to their supporters.

The ruling CPP has received extensive television coverage of its nationwide internal elections this month, which enables grassroots members to choose who they want to run for the party come April’s commune elections.

CPP officials say the local polls demonstrate democracy in action. But other parties have expressed concern that the CPP’s extensive coverage on national television is giving the ruling party a distinctly unfair advantage.

Sam Rainsy, leader of the SRP, said his party has been holding internal elections in over 9,600 communes and villages to elect its representatives for two years, but has received virtually no television time.

“The CPP controls all the electronic media, so their activities have a lot of coverage,” he said.

The SRP does not own any television or radio stations and relies on local meetings to rally support, Sam Rainsy said, adding that the lack of coverage does not bother him. If the SRP was to increase its media profile the CPP would feel threatened, and this could be dangerous, he said.

Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero declined to comment on the extensive television coverage enjoyed by the CPP. And though Funcinpec owns the Ta Prohm radio station, the party will not use it to campaign ahead of the commune election, he said.

“We don’t want to show off our work,” Nouv Sovathero said, adding that Funcinpec does not want the station to be used to criticize the government, as it was when Prince Norodom Ranariddh was party president.

Prince Sisowath Thomico, president of the Sangkum Jatiniyum Front Party, complained about the disproportionate airtime the CPP receives and noted that his party has been holding internal elections for all of its candidates.

“That’s just propaganda,” he said. “What the CPP are doing, the SRP and the SJF are doing as well, but the only party that needs to show it is the CPP.”

Muth Channtha, spokes­man for the Norodom Rana­riddh Party, said it was inappropriate for the CPP to employ state-funded media to advertise itself ahead of the commune elections.

“They are taking advantage by using the state budget to advertise and that is contrary to the law,” he claimed.

Article 37 of the 1994 law on the co-statute for civil servants strictly prohibits using state materials for servicing political activities, he added.

CPP Information Minister Khieu Kanharith suggested that parties other than his own may get less airtime because they don’t promote themselves as effectively. He also said that the work of government officials was a newsworthy subject for the public.

“How many times has SRP requested TVK to film them?” he asked.

Sam Rainsy said that if the SRP sent video footage of its work to the state’s television stations it would probably be thrown “in the bin.”

Cambodia’s election law has provisions that outline equal media coverage for the commune elections. But this rule only relates to a 15-day period as the elections near, said Koul Panha, director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.

State-managed media should provide equal coverage of each of the country’s main political parties, Koul Panha said.

“They should not cover just one party,” he said, adding that parties concerned about their coverage have the right to complain to the National Election Committee.

“The media, especially the TV, plays a crucial role for the poor and the illiterate people. They only see the CPP doing things for development.”

Khan Keomono, deputy director of NEC’s public information bureau, said it is too early to comment on media coverage of the elections.

Asked if the broad television coverage of the CPP’s internal elections will disadvantage other political parties, Khan Keomono was more forthcoming: “I think that this is just the news, it is not a campaign.”

Kem Gunawath, TVK di-rector general, said his station broadcasts “community work” by the CPP alone because other political parties do not conduct such work.

“I have never seen the Sam Rainsy Party build schools, roads and pagodas. That is why we don’t broadcast their news,” Kem Gunawath said.

“If the Sam Rainsy Party can provide the video tapes of them building infrastructure, then the station will air their achievements,” he said.

He added that TVK does not support the CPP.

Heng Samrin said the CPP sometimes hires the private Apsara TV or Bayon TV to cover CPP events, but that only TVK runs regular news reports on government activities.

“TVK covers government activities, not the CPP,” he maintained.

Apsara TV Director Sok Ey San said his station does its best to steer clear of the SRP.

“Sam Rainsy Party information mostly criticizes the government. We don’t broadcast it because we don’t want to receive a bad reputation,” he said.

And for now, he said, broadcasting the CPP’s internal elections is key to letting the public know what the party is really like.

“We want to show people that the CPP is democratic even from the ground level,” he said.

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