Tep Nitha, secretary-general of the National Election Committee, said Saturday that both private and state-run media should broadcast parties’ political platforms equally and without bias, and that private television and radio stations should sell cheap air time to political groups in the run-up to July’s national elections.
Speaking at a meeting with media representatives on Saturday, Tep Nitha called for equal access for all political parties and urged stations to coordinate and broadcast political spots at the same time so viewers couldn’t change the channel and ignore them.
While some media executives responded with enthusiasm to Tep Nitha’s suggestions, others said their existing financial arrangements would make such changes difficult. “It’s very important for both private and state-run media to broadcast [political messages] at the same time,” Tep Nitha said. “That way, audiences can’t switch to other television or radio stations to watch entertainment programs.”
Under the law, the NEC is responsible for ensuring media fairness for the election but can only make suggestions—it cannot order media outlets to comply.
TV3 General Director Kham Poun Keomony said he supported such a move. “Just because we’re private media doesn’t mean we care only about money,” he said. “We will do what the NEC demands as long as the proposals are applied equally” to all media.
But the idea will be effective only if all stations agreed to it, he warned. He said he worried that larger or state-run channels would ignore the recommendation and broadcast movies while his station was dutifully airing political platforms. “If this happens, people will just change the channel,” Kham Poun Keomony said.
However, a representative for popular TV5, who asked not to be named, said it would be impossible to cancel contractual obligations for advertising and movie times, which are scheduled far in advance.
Mam Sonando, director of Beehive Radio, said Tep Nitha’s proposal couldn’t have an effect without the support of state-run TVK and national radio—but those outlets, he said, are more devoted to broadcasting rosy reports about ruling-party officials than to serving the people.
The NEC should do its best to ensure that all political parties receive space on the small screen, and balanced treatment, before the election, Mam Sonando said. The next step, he said, would be to get political parties to submit audio tapes or videos of campaign information. If the NEC approves these spots, he said, they will be hard for the major media to ignore.
Election monitoring NGOs have criticized a provision that requires voter-education broadcasts to be approved by the NEC before airing. The previous NEC barred several candidate debates and voter-education programs from being broadcast before the February 2002 local elections.