Cambodia’s largely government-run media could do a better job of providing voters with information about the first-ever commune council elections, observers said Thursday.
The government is willing to do what the law requires, an official from the Ministry of Information told a seminar on media and the elections sponsored by the NGO Forum on Cambodia, Forum Syd and AusAid. “We are here to learn what the media wants, and we are willing to cooperate with the National Election Committee,” said Thach Phen, undersecretary of state for the Ministry of Information.
Thach Phen said the ministry is waiting for the NEC to detail exactly what it expects from government media operations as the February elections near.
He spent most of an hour fielding questions from the audience, comprised of election observers and NGO employees.
Some were critical of the government’s past performance, both its regular news coverage and that provided during the 1998 national elections.
A UN study of media election reports in 1998 said that while state-run TV and radio provided balanced coverage, private TV and radio—which are often closely tied to the ruling CPP—virtually ignored all but CPP candidates.
In the last month before the elections, the UN said the privately owned Apsara and Bayon broadcast operations featured CPP candidates 446 times, while all other parties were mentioned 25 times. Prime Minister Hun Sen appeared 107 times and his wife, Bun Rany, 71 times.
Two other major candidates appeared on Apsara radio only: Opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who was on nine times; and Funcinpec’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh, who was on six.
Heng Sovran, a member of the Sam Rainsy Party, accused the state-run media of providing propaganda rather than news.
The state routinely covers aid missions by CPP leaders to flood victims while ignoring border disputes or protests before the National Assembly by poor farmers protesting land grabs, he said.
“You are killing Cambodian culture without bleeding” by ignoring issues of real importance to Cambodians, he said.
“Please, Ministry of Information, change your TV coverage to represent democracy. Voters need this information.”
Thach Phen said state-controlled TV and radio “has an obligation to reflect the truth” and that while the government is working to alleviate poverty, that doesn’t mean every poor person’s story must be broadcast.
Foreign investors don’t like to see footage of large demonstrations, he said, so the government doesn’t cover every one.
He said border issues are resolved through diplomacy, not news coverage and the government is working quietly through its border commission.
“The people elected a coalition government, and the media is covering what they do,” he said. “When you see a party logo on the screen, it is because the party is solving a problem.”