A harsh warning from the National Election Committee largely neutered the nation’s airwaves Wednesday as officials monitored radio broadcasts and weighed possible punishments.
The NEC issued its ultimatum to media outlets on Tuesday, threatening suspension of stations or newspapers that use biased, abusive or threatening language in their political coverage.
A committee is monitoring the country’s radio and television stations and will announce its findings today, said NEC Secretary-General Tep Nitha.
“After we have enough evidence, we will take the measures against those [violating] stations,” Tep Nitha said.
Although most radio stations toned down their broadcasts on Wednesday, royalist-leaning Ta Prohm continued its exclusive coverage of Funcinpec and could be at risk of suspension, said Mar Sophal, who monitors media for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections.
Beehive seemed to comply with the NEC ultimatum, he said.
Ta Prohm and Beehive were the target of complaints lodged at the NEC on Wednesday by Apsara, Bayon, TV3 and FM 103.
Apsara Director Sok Ey San said he stopped the broadcast of speeches and spots that attacked Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy, “but there are a number of radio stations that still broadcast the programs that are contrary to the NEC’s code of conduct.”
“Those stations should stop criticizing Prime Minister Hun Sen and broadcast [political parties’] achievements to the voters,” he said.
Apsara is widely believed to be CPP-controlled.
The operator of Ta Prohm, Funcinpec adviser Noranarith Ananda, said the station is in compliance with NEC rules and would not change its broadcasts, which include strong speeches by the prince.
“We will not cut out any parts,” Noranarith Ananda said.
Minister of Information Lu Laysreng, a Funcinpec member, said he would defend the station against possible NEC action and urged the committee to instead crack down on media outlets controlled by the ruling CPP.
“Why is a group of wild lions afraid of small ants like [Beehive and Ta Prohm]?” he said. “The NEC should not support the CPP too much. This will affect Cambodia’s reputation.”
The NEC needs permission from the ministry to suspend any stations, he added.
Lu Laysreng also decried this week’s order that Beehive stop broadcasting news programs produced by Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.
Khieu Kanharith, the secretary of state at the Ministry of Information, ordered Beehive founder Mam Sonando to halt the broadcasts without the minister’s consent, Lu Laysreng said.
“[Khieu Kanharith] does not respect the administration law, [under] which lower officials have to respect the leaders,” he said. “He is based on the power of Prime Minister Hun Sen. That is why he dared to do that.”
The station did not have permission to broadcast programs produced overseas, the secretary of state had charged. Beehive began airing the programs July 1.
Also on Wednesday, police in Mondolkiri province launched an investigation into a shooting incident Tuesday that left three Sam Rainsy Party supporters wounded.
Two assailants fired an automatic rifle into the home of 43-year-old Bery Mal in Keo Seima district, said Mondolkiri Provincial Deputy Police Chief Chin Sarun.
Hang Puthea, the president of the Neutral Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections, said his long-term observer in the province thought the attack was politically motivated.
“The offenders opened fire on the party activist’s house,” Hang Puthea said. “It is related to political violence, not a revenge case.”
The provincial election committee and commune election committee are jointly investigating the attack, said Mondolkiri PEC director Ty Chhoeun. He declined to speculate on the motive of the attack.
“Right now it is under investigation,” he said. “We do not yet know if it is related to politics or a revenge case.”
Shrapnel from the attack struck Bery Mal in his right thigh, his 35-year-old wife Nhoun in their stomach and broke the leg of 14-year-old relative Marng Prak, Ty Chhoeun said.
Hun Sen again appealed for non-violence during the election campaigning in a speech at a Tree Day ceremony in Sihanoukville.
“Please regard the long-term interests of the nation and the people more than the parties’ interests,” he said. “The nation and the people really need peace, stability and national reconciliation.”
In other election news, a Comfrel report dismissed Sam Rainsy’s allegation this week that block news coverage produced jointly by TVK and the UN Development Program was biased.
Sam Rainsy said the party had withdrawn from the coverage, which provides unprecedented access to opposition and small parties during the election campaign.
Also, the NEC filmed a voter education spot on how the polling stations will work. The spot will be aired later in the month.
Today Sam Rainsy will campaign in Svay Rieng province. Neither Prince Ranariddh nor Hun Sen are scheduled to make any public appearances, said spokesmen for the two parties.
(Additional reporting by Luke Reynolds)