The National Election Committee issued regulations on media access Monday, banning political advertisements from the airwaves except on state-run media during the 30-day campaign period.
The 39 parties competing in the July 26 elections will each have five-minute spots daily on national radio and television during the campaign, which will officially begin June 24, according to the regulations.
Private radio and television stations, both Cambodian and foreign-owned, will be banned from running political propaganda and paid political advertisements under the order. That would mean that stations such as Apsara Radio, a joint venture between the CPP and a private company, and Sambok Kmoum Radio, owned by aspiring politician Mom Sonando, would have to cease their party promotions.
The aim, according to the NEC, is to provide “equal opportunity” for all political parties to get their message out. But the regulations issued Monday did not appear to follow the suggestions of the UN’s human rights envoy to Cambodia.
Thomas Hammarberg has said that limiting parties to short spots on national airwaves does not give them enough time to get their message out and added that he fears the main opposition parties would be “lost in a sea of voices” if all 39 parties are given equal time. He has also said it would be preferable if the major parties were each allowed a radio frequency of their own to get their message out.
The UN’s acceptance of the media-access formula is crucial because it has reserved the right to pull out of its role as coordinator of international monitors if it feels there is not equitable access to media during the campaign.
One media watcher in Phnom Penh faulted the plan Monday, saying it leaves the NEC—which is an independent body but has been criticized as being stacked in favor of the CPP—the power to reject opposition messages.
“They said that there would be no prior censorship, no pre-publication screening,” the observer said.
An NEC adviser said Monday that the panel will only screen parties’ messages for violations of article 76 of the electoral law, which forbids parties and candidates from “using violence, abuse or contemptuous remarks [and] causing fear, confusion and loss of confidence in the secrecy of the ballot.”
NEC spokesman Leng Sochea said Monday that the panel’s media commission, headed by Prum Nhien Vichet, would also monitor private radio, television and newspapers during the campaign period to make sure they are not spreading party propaganda. The regulations issued Monday did not specify what steps would be taken against those violating the rules.
The order also covers newspapers, but sources at the NEC said the main focus is on broadcast media because of their wider coverage area.
Leng Sochea said the order should not affect news coverage, as some fear.
“Rasmei Kampuchea [Cambodia’s largest Khmer-language daily] called to complain that this order shuts the mouth of the press, but that is not true,” he said.
Earlier drafts of the regulations would have restricted news coverage from giving undue attention to a party or candidate, but those provisions were dropped, according to NEC advisers.
While that theoretically safeguards news broadcasts such as Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, it also means that state-run radio and television may continue to broadcast long speeches by Second Prime Minister Hun Sen during its news shows.