In what appears to be a clarification of a previous decision, an official from the National Election Committee said Sunday that private broadcast stations will be allowed to televise candidate debates.
“The NEC does not have the right to check the content of the videotape [supplied] by political parties or NGOs unless that debate is produced by state-run media such as TVK,” said Prum Nhean Vichet, media officer for the NEC. Previously, representatives from Apsara and Bayon TV said they would broadcast the debates only if the NEC approved the videotape’s content and if they received payment for the broadcast.
Despite Prum Nhien Vichet’s statement, an official from the Khmer Institute for Democracy said several private television stations have said they will not televise the first debate held Saturday in Kampot province, either because they fear they will break election laws or they do not want to get involved with the Feb 3 commune elections.
“Some television stations told us that the NEC said they could broadcast the debate, but the [non-state run] station is responsible for the content,” said Kem Sambaddh, head of administration for the Khmer Institute.
He said the Khmer Institute approached every privately run television station in Phnom Penh, including TV3, TV5 and Apsara, and was essentially denied broadcast privileges by all but TV9, which said it would charge the Khmer Institute approximately $2,000 to televise the two-hour debate.
Kem Sambaddh said Sunday he was editing the Kampot debate and would still send it to NEC for approval either late Sunday or this morning, because the television stations told him they would only broadcast the debate with prior NEC authorization.
On Sunday, the NEC also ordered all political parties to immediately cease playing video and audio cassettes that “criticize personal and other political parties.” The order, signed by NEC Chairman Chheng Phon, was faxed to the offices of all political parties.
Although no parties were mentioned by name, officials from the Sam Rainsy Party said the order was directed at them because they have been playing audio recordings of opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s speeches made in the National Assembly during the budget debates. “We been playing these tapes in [eight] provinces, and the commune election committees and provincial election committees have been confiscating these tapes from the party,” said Phi Thach, Sam Rainsy Party Cabinet chief.
The Sam Rainsy Party also filed a complaint with the NEC, accusing local authorities and commune election officials of illegally banning the party’s campaign material, said Eng Chhay Eang, secretary-general for the party.
Prum Nhien Vichet said the tapes would promote violence and, therefore, should be outlawed.
“What some parties have produced has violated the regulations and election procedures under article 126 and 128 of Chapter 8 of the election law,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Thet Sambath)