The opposition CNRP will only receive a license for a digital television station under the July 22 political deal with the CPP, as there are no unused analog television channels available, Information Minister Khieu Kanharith said Thursday.
In a radio interview Wednesday night, opposition leader Sam Rainsy complained he had received news that the CNRP would not get a license to operate on analog airwaves, which remains the country’s dominant broadcast medium.
Mr. Rainsy ended the CNRP’s boycott of the National Assembly after securing the July 22 deal with Prime Minister Hun Sen, which included a pledge for a television license.
“Today, I received an answer [from the government] that this principle remains the same, but they raised a technological matter and said that the current technology is analog and is ceasing to be used,” Mr. Rainsy said Wednesday.
“They are moving forward to start digital, and this digital [system] will take from two to three years [to be introduced].”
Mr. Rainsy said the CNRP would accept the opportunity to operate on digital, but wanted to secure an analog station immediately.
“We will look for a frequency because the information minister affirms there are no analog stations now but we know there are some companies and tycoons who have obtained frequencies that they don’t use,” he said.
Cambodia was due to complete its transition to digital television by 2015 but this has been pushed back to 2018. The technology requires viewers to buy either a digital television set or else buy a $26 “top box” to convert analog sets.
Commune elections are scheduled for February 2017 and the next national election is set for February 2018.
Mr. Kanharith said the CNRP could begin broadcasting on its digital frequency straight away if it so desired.
“We don’t have any analog stations left, but if Sam Rainsy starts on digital, it can be rebroadcasted by all cable TV companies or through [people’s] own set-top-box,” Mr. Kanharith said in a Facebook message.
Mr. Kanharith said it was unfair for Mr. Rainsy to claim the government was changing its stance, as Mr. Hun Sen had only pledged to provide the CNRP one of the new digital stations allocated to state broadcaster TVK.
“He distorted the facts,” Mr. Kanharith said. “Hun Sen told him that TVK will go digital in a few years, but as we accepted that one part of TVK’s digital frequency is [to be] allocated to his TV station, he could start it anytime.”
“I think he didn’t understand the technical side but tried to politicize it anyway. He just needs to send his technicians to discuss with us instead of politicizing the fact,” the information minister said.
On the same day Mr. Hun Sen announced his promise to allow an opposition TV station in a June 11 speech, Mr. Kanharith told reporters that a digital station had already been set aside for the opposition party.
Asked about Mr. Rainsy’s claims that a number of businessman had licenses they were not using, Mr. Kanharith said he would welcome further information.
“Give me the names,” he said. “Because my ministry is desperately trying to get a few more channels too.”
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Thursday that the opposition understood the terms of the July 22 agreement to mean they would receive an analog license. He also reiterated Mr. Rainsy’s repudiation of the claims that there is no remaining spectrum.
“It’s not true. A lot of licenses have been kept by businessmen and I think we will get an analog station,” he said.
“I would like to know, where is Channel 5 and where is Channel 7? We can find out who has these analog stations. I think that the Information Ministry has the information.”
Mr. Sovann added that the CNRP’s leadership would negotiate with the government to secure an analog station straight away.
A firm named Cambodian Independent Media was registered by the CNRP last month to operate the party’s station, which would be Cambodia’s first opposition TV channel.
The country’s nine existing analog television stations are all either owned by CPP officials or aligned with the ruling party, and opposition figures have long complained about being blacked out of coverage.
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