With the launch of his very own $20 million TV station Saturday, CPP senator and tycoon Ly Yong Phat is set to become yet another influential media mogul openly aligned with the ruling party.
Mr. Yong Phat’s PNN, which had already been broadcasting test runs throughout the country, will officially launch this weekend and offer a variety of programs, from Thai soap operas and locally produced game shows to sporting events.
According to a statement posted on the station’s Facebook page, Mr. Yong Phat’s LYP Group spent $10 million on setting up PNN’s facilities in Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district and another $10 million on equipment.
In addition to entertainment, the station will run daily news programs during prime-time slots, said Pen Bonnar, who spent more than a decade as a reporter at Radio France International (RFI) before being made PNN’s first news director.
“I came to work at PNN because I had worked in radio and newspapers for more than 20 years and I saw PNN had higher standards than other stations,” Mr. Bonnar said Friday.
He added that so far PNN had hired dozens of experienced journalists into its ranks.
“There are more than 150 reporters who have come to work at PNN,” he said. “Some are from Radio Free Asia, the Phnom Penh Post, CTN and VOD [Voice of Democracy].”
Mr. Bonnar, who was in April named president of the Club of Cambodian Journalists, claimed that despite his boss’ political affiliations and business interests, his newsroom would remain neutral.
“PNN will broadcast and report the news that the public demands and we will report everything that happens,” he said.
The 57-year-old Mr. Yong Phat, who was born in Koh Kong province, has long been a newsmaker in Cambodia.
Nicknamed “the King of Koh Kong,” according to a leaked 2007 U.S. Embassy cable, his business interests include hotels, resorts, sugar plantations, real estate and a cigarette importing company.
For years, he has been locked in numerous disputes with locals in his home province who accuse his companies of land grabbing.
Glen Felgate, PNN’s managing director, who is the former general manager of CTN, also said his news team would not be influenced by Mr. Yong Phat’s interests.
“While we are not a news channel we feel there is room for a channel that is able to bring the news to the audience in a comprehensive manner while also explaining the background to such stories in an objective way,” he wrote in an email.
However, Pa Nguon Teang, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), said he believes otherwise.
“I don’t think [PNN] can be independent of the government,” he said, citing Mr. Yong Phat’s position as a senator and the fact that there are no TV stations in Cambodia free from political influence.
“As we have seen so far, they have only given licenses to the CPP and the opposition,” he said. “I think most [TV stations] are aligned with the ruling party.”
Although CNRP President Sam Rainsy announced in April that the country’s first opposition-aligned TV station would begin broadcasting later this year, the CPP has long dominated the country’s broadcast media landscape.
CPP-friendly stations include the popular Bayon TV—controlled by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughter, Hun Mana—and CTN, CNC and MyTV, all owned by tycoon Kith Meng, who has close ties with the government.
Mr. Nguon Teang said this de facto government control of the media is bad for the country. “Because when people can’t get fair or independent information then…people cannot make the right decisions during an election,” he said.
Huy Vannak, news director of CNC, who was named an undersecretary of state in the Interior Ministry on Wednesday, said he does not believe news stations need to be entirely independent.
“To be honest, I always challenge the idea of independence [in the media],” he said.
“You can talk about democracy in Europe, but democracy for countries in Asia needs to be applied in the context of their own cultures. The context, I mean, is flexibility in performing your duties.”