Countering a recent decision by private television stations to black out coverage of the upcoming general elections, at least four radio stations say they will sell air time to political parties during the campaign period.
Stations are lining up political discussion programs and calculating prices according to a new regulation that allows private media to air political advertisements for the first time in the country’s history.
The regulation, drafted by the National Election Committee, requires that media companies do not discriminate among parties seeking to buy ads, and that all are charged the same price.
Beehive FM 105, Samleng Khmer FM 88, Ta Promh FM 90.5 and FM 93.5 have already submitted advertisement price scales and schedules for review, said Tuot Lux, the NEC’s deputy secretary-general. “We have enough regulation to avoid any bias by the stations to the political parties,” Tuot Lux said. “If a private station does not respect the NEC regulation, we will punish them.”
Mam Sonando, founder of Beehive, said he expects to lose money by selling air time at a rate of $3 per minute. Still, “I want every political party to have their voices heard by voters,” he said.
Beehive has also invited political parties to air free 30-minute programs detailing their platforms and to participate in a broadcast interview.
A five-minute ad on Samleng Khmer will cost $25, said station administrator Em Sokchanty. “I have plenty of air time for political parties that want to buy,” she said.
Other radio stations are lining up programs on political issues. Tive Sarayeth, co-director of the Women’s Media Center, said last week her station is arranging roundtable discussions with party candidates on issues such as health and domestic violence.
She said she is unafraid to air political debate, regardless of party. “We don’t favor a political party,” she said.
Private television stations and their affiliated radio stations have said they will not broadcast ads or news about the elections. Some station owners said they would lose long-term advertisers; others said they feared airing political material that could anger viewers.
State-owned TVK will be the only television station to air election news in addition to a series of roundtable discussions that were finished this weekend. The discussions, which feature candidates from all 23 registered parties, will begin airing on June 26.
Election monitors have focused particularly on the media in the early run-up to the July 27 elections. A report issued Thursday by the NGO Committee for Free and Fair Elections stated that
90 percent of the country’s media is CPP-controlled and accused the ruling party of using media outlets to campaign before June 26.
According to a Comfrel media review conducted between April 28 and May 28, TVK aired 26 speeches by Prime Minister Hun Sen that accounted for 70 percent of the air time given to politics.
That report also cited instances of voter intimidation and extortion in the political party registration process. At least three parties have complained that commune officials charged party representatives for registration documents, the report states.
In an unrelated incident after the report’s release, three activists from the Hang Dara Democratic Movement Party were beaten Thursday in the Sa’ang district of Kandal province, according to a party statement. An unidentified group of men carrying sticks and knives attacked the three activists, who fled their homes to take refuge with party leadership in Phnom Penh, the statement said. Police could not be reached for comment Sunday afternoon.
Meanwhile, Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh is touring the provinces after returning Friday from a trip to France. Ranariddh travels to Kompong Cham province today to visit some 10,000 party members.
On Sunday, the prime minister attended an inauguration ceremony in Prey Veng province, while opposition leader Sam Rainsy announced plans to travel through Kampot and Takeo provinces.
Also last week, the French Embassy announced a gift of some $595,000 to the NEC for upkeep of communications systems during the elections.
(Additional reporting by Luke Reynolds)