Gov’t Orders Station to Cut Broadcasts

Threatened with closure for broadcasting live feeds from Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, Beehive Radio Station owner and operator Mam Sonan­do said Thursday he will clip the offending broadcasts.

The decision came a day after the Ministry of Information sent a letter to Beehive announcing itsthreat to shutter the station for the second time in the last five years.

The letter, signed by Minister of Information Lu Laysreng, told Mam Sonando to get rid of the three hours per day Beehive carries either VOA or RFA, Mam Sonando said. He was given until Thurs­day evening to obey. Mam Sonando said he would obey.

However, Mam Sonando said the threat is particularly galling coming from Lu Laysreng.

“This closure made me remember the past, when Lu Laysreng, Prince [Norodom] Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy were demonstrating, shouting for their freedom,” Mam Sonando said.

The government has repeatedly refused to grant broadcasting licenses for VOA and RFA. Both outfits broadcast on shortwave radio in Khmer language, but they are often weak signals and hard to hear. Beehive makes the two broadcasts more assessable to the public.

The Ministry of Information letter is nothing less than an attempt to stamp out free expression, Mam Sonando said.

“I am really sorry about the closure. It seems they want to eliminate people’s freedom to have true local and international information,” he said.

Until the order, Beehive broadcast from the two outlets daily. Between 7 am and 8 am, it carried VOA’s feed. From 7:30 pm to 8:30 pm, it went with RFA. From 9 pm until 9:30 pm, Beehive resumed VOA feeds, then running RFA again from 9:30 pm until 10 pm.

Although both VOA and RFA are often critical of the government, government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said Thursday the threatened closure was merely a matter of protocol and not an attempt to squelch dissent.

“When they asked us for permits, they said they would produce their own programs. They didn’t ask permission before they broadcasted the VOA and RFA, so it is illegal to do so,” Khieu Kanharith said.

Khieu Kanharith bristled at the suggestions the government was destroying freedom of expression, saying Mam Sonando’s criticisms were not credible.

“Maybe he didn’t study media law in Cambodia or any other country, or maybe he’s never operated a radio station before,” Khieu Kanharith said.

Lu Laysreng could not be reached for comment. Officials at RFA refused to comment on the story and VOA does not have full-time representatives in Cambodia.

Mam Sonando said he would wait to determine the government’s next move before filing paperwork asking permission to run the RFA and VOA feeds.

This was not Beehive’s first run-in with the government. In 1998, the Ministry of Information closed the station, claiming its election coverage was biased and could “create political and social turmoil” among listeners

(Additional reporting by Nou Sophors and Bill Myers)



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