New Minister Seeks Media Responsibility

Funcinpec appears poised to regain media outlets lost after last year’s factional fighting, but new Information Minister Lu Lay­sreng pledged Tuesday to foster a more politically-neutral media environment.

“I prefer all press to be free to express themselves. But, for sure, they must be responsible. They cannot just attack,” the Funcinpec minister said.

State-run TVK, for example, will under his guidance become “pro-Hun Sen government, not pro-Hun Sen party [CPP],” he said.

And while Funcinpec President Prince Norodom Ranariddh has an ownership stake in Channel 9, “it won’t become a Funcinpec station again,” Lu Laysreng maintained. Funcinpec lost programming control of the privately-owned station after its forces lost factional fighting with CPP troops in July 1997.

Lu Laysreng also said Tuesday that he wants to boost public education programs on such issues as AIDS, deforestation, arts and culture and driver responsibility.

“I would like to prohibit cigarette advertising, but it would be very difficult,” he added.

Cambodia’s media has been widely characterized as partisan, and the CPP’s domination of the media was a central issue in the run-up to the July elections. The print press especially is regarded as politically biased, with many local newspapers more accurately characterized as party bulletins.

So to what extent the media will become more neutral re­mains uncertain. Political pressures are expected to build as commune elections draw closer.

Peter Schier, country representative for the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German pro-dem­ocracy group, said the new coalition government offers the opportunity to “depoliticize” the media.

To help do so, Schier suggested that state-run television be converted into public television. To ensure neutrality, he said, there could be an advisory committee from members of Cam­bodia’s civic society such as human rights and democracy activists, and even Buddhist monks.

“It’s not a good idea to have [political] party TV, and I think it’s boring” for the average Cam­bodian, Schier said. “There is a good opportunity now to restructure the media.”

It was unclear Tuesday what will happen to radio 90FM, which Funcinpec also lost following last year’s fighting. The station later supported former First Prime Minister Ung Huot, who was expelled from Funcinpec after agreeing to replace ousted first premier Prince Ranariddh.

Lu Laysreng said the station director already has agreed to give the station back to Funcin­pec. But Lu Laysreng said the prince wants to take legal steps to regain the license and recover the estimated $35,000 of post-fighting looting damages.

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