Ministry of Information officials are hesitating to give either Voice of America or Radio Free Asia permission to set up FM stations in Phnom Penh.
“Our state policy is if we give them permission, then other foreign countries will seek permission in our country, too,” Minister of Information Lu Laysreng said of the US government funded broadcasters. “Then our country will become set up for international broadcast media, and it becomes difficult to control this.”
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said VOA and RFA already have signals that cover most of Cambodia, and said he doesn’t see why they need an FM signal. “I doubt Asean countries want these [foreign] government stations established [in the region].”
VOA broadcasts in Khmer from 5 am to 5:30 am and from 8:30 pm to 9:30 pm at 1575 AM. VOA director Sanford Ungar met with Information Ministry officials and National Assembly chairman Prince Norodom Ranariddh last week to ask permission to establish an FM station to strengthen the network’s signal. After that meeting, Lu Laysreng said, “We can’t see this [proposal] as a problem.”
RFA, which broadcasts only on shortwave frequencies in Cambodia, had an application for an FM station denied in April of 1999. Lu Laysreng had said last week he would reconsider that decision if RFA was willing to negotiate.
RFA office manager Sok Sorey said more neutral media was needed in Cambodia. “Our tendency is to bring the true and just information to the people,” he said.
Kao Kim Hourn, executive director of the Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, pointed out such foreign media as CNN, French Radio International and ABC Australia Radio already reach into Cambodia.
“What are we afraid of? We must not be so selective,” he said.
Kem Sokha, chairman of the Senate Human Rights Commission, disputes Khieu Kanharith’s contention that Asean countries are uniformly opposed to VOA and RFA.
“These [stations] are not against Asean’s law. It is not stipulated in Asean agreements,” Kem Sokha said.