NEC: Roundtables Will Air, But Not Debates

The National Election Com­mit­tee has reconsidered its decision not to televise voter information roundtables, US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann said Wed­nes­day.

“I discussed it Tuesday with [NEC president] Chheng Phon,” Wiedemann said during a break at the semi-annual donors meeting.

“He told me that they have studied the issue, and that they could and would televise the roundtables, but that the rules had to be followed.

“In principle, to have the roundtables televised is very good, but we will have to see” what rules the NEC has in mind, he said.

Prum Nhean Vichet, director of information for the NEC, said NEC officials are debating how to edit the tapes. “This is a very difficult decision for the NEC, be­cause it might involve cutting out il­legal parts, and the parties might object,” he said.

At issue are as many as 15 voter-information programs, prepared by NGOs, that address issues or procedures surrounding the Feb 3 commune council elections.

The idea was to provide all po­li­ti­cal parties with equal access to broadcast media, an important matter given that perhaps two-thirds of Cambodia’s citizens are functionally illiterate.

The programs were to have be­gun this Friday. At least four programs were ready to air last week, but objections to the content of a program on women’s is­sues derailed the whole project.

The fate of another voter information project remained unclear Wednesday. The US and Swedish governments are funding six candidate debates in different communes throughout Cam­bo­dia. The original plan was to broadcast them on state TV so voters could learn how debates work, but the NEC decided not to air them.

“NEC policy does not allow de­bates on TVK or state TV, which is only supposed to broadcast vo­ter education programs,” Prum Nhean Vichet said. “Those [de­bates] can be broadcast on private TV, if they say yes.”

Spokesmen for Apsara and Ba­yon TV both said they would be willing to broadcast the debates, but only if the NEC approves them and if somebody is willing to pay for the time. The first de­bate is scheduled for Saturday in Kam­pot.

Thai Norak Satis, general director of Bayon TV and radio, said state TV seems like the right ven­ue for the debates. “Why won’t state-run TVK run them? Why should private TV go ahead of the state?” he said.

Lao Mong Hay, whose Khmer In­stitute for Democracy is organizing the debates with the Na­tion­al Democratic Institute, said time is of the essence. “We need a speedy decision,” he said. “De­lay too long and they will be useless.”

Eric Kessler of the NDI said he does not understand why private stations won’t air the programs without NEC approval.

“We view these debates as a pub­lic service,” he said. “We think they should be given time on state-run TV. We are not sure we can afford to buy time for them on private TV.”

(Reporting by Kay Kimsong, Jody McPhillips and Michelle Vachon)

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