Ministry Disputes Media Access Questions

The Ministry of Information on Wednesday disputed the opposition National United Front’s contention that media access is lacking in the run-up to national elections.

“If compared with other parties, NUF has the most Khmer-language newspapers and are more freely outspoken [than pro-CPP newspapers],” the Ministry statement read. “In addition, the NUF has the 93.5 [FM] radio station. So we want to query their un­willingness to participate in the election.”

The statement came two days after the NUF’s four-party coalition announced it would boycott the July 26 national elections if several conditions, including giving opposition parties their own radio stations, aren’t met. The NUF consists of Funcinpec, the Sam Rainsy party, the Son Sann party and the Cambodian Neutral Party.

But even as the Ministry of Information was issuing its critical statement, the National El­ection Committee’s media committee said it was moving forward on plans to provide more media access.

Prum Nhien Vichet, chairman of the NEC’s media committee, said Wednesday that the regulation should be completed by the end of next week. The draft, he said, would give all parties “en­ough” access, he said.

“In principle,” the draft calls for state-owned media to give all political parties equal time, he said. In addition, “all privately owned media will have to halt their propaganda roles unless au­thorized by the NEC,” Prum Nhien Vichet said. Most privately owned radio stations are deemed to be friendly to the CPP.

But the NEC will not authorize privately owned media to sell air time “because it is not fair to those who cannot afford to pay the bill of air time,” he added.

The NEC regulation may not sat­isfy everyone’s concerns.

Thomas Hammarberg, the UN secretary-general’s special representative for human rights in Cambodia, said recently that if all political parties are given equal time, the major parties “could be lost in the sea of voices.” He said a formula should be worked out to allow every party a chance to be heard, but allocate more air time to popular parties.

The Ministry of Information statement said the Son Sann Party has a license to operate 93.5 FM. But Son Soubert, party president, said the party lacks equipment to start operating.

The Information Ministry statement added that it is Funcinpec’s own problem if it “cannot persuade its old stations to follow its old political track. One must not blame the government or others.”

Khieu Kanharith, secretary of state for Information, has previously said there are only so many FM frequencies, and most al­ready are taken by private businesses. The government, he has maintained, can’t take away those stations and can’t simply create new frequencies because those frequencies could interfere with the transmission of the other stations. (Reporting by Kay John­son, Jeff Smith and Khuy Sokhoeun)

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