Information Ministry officials on Tuesday gave contradictory accounts on whether the government is considering new rules barring radio stations from carrying broadcasts from U.S.-funded media outlets Radio Free Asia and Voice of America, adding to ambiguity surrounding the outlets’ fate in Cambodia.
Reporters asked Ouk Kimseng, a spokesman for the ministry, on Tuesday to verify rumors that local radio stations would be barred from carrying RFA and VOA programming in early September.
“It is in the making,” he said. “All needs to be agreed upon by the Ministry of Information. But I don’t see the official [announcement] yet…. For now I don’t give any details because I don’t have the official thing in hand.”
Mr. Kimseng said he did not know when the rules would be released.
“I just wait for the decision of my boss,” he said, adding that any announcement would be posted to his Facebook page.
But when asked about the possibility of a ban, his boss, Khieu Kanharith, responded on Facebook that the plan was “not about RFA/VOA.”
He did not elaborate or respond to later questions about Mr. Kimseng’s comments earlier in the day.
RFA public affairs director Rohit Mahajan, based in Washington, said the outlet’s Phnom Penh team had not heard anything about a plan for a ban.
His counterpart at VOA, George Mackenzie, said that its affiliate stations “have received no formal notification from the Ministry of Information ordering local stations to stop carrying our content.”
Both stations buy airtime on local radio stations in Cambodia to relay their broadcasts.
Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth, in a letter earlier this month, had asked that Mr. Kanharith look into the media registration of both the outlets related to possible tax violations. Mr. Kimseng said last week that the ministry was collecting updated information on the outlets, including their current staff and office location, along with other “foreign” media. He did not elaborate at the time when asked to define what was meant by “foreign.”
Mam Sonando, the owner of popular Beehive Radio, on Tuesday said he was not aware of any Information Ministry plan to pull RFA or VOA programming off air and said his Phnom Penh-based station would consider ignoring such an order.
“They cannot do whatever they want,” Mr. Sonando said. “If you used the force or power to force us, it would not comply with the law.”
Chhoun Vichiny, who is on the board of directors at Mohanokor Radio, said her station also had not received any notice about changing its twice-daily VOA and RFA broadcasts.
She said the station would have to consider any ministry order to do so.