Do you dislike the status quo? How about the government? Do you always seem to have three hours to kill in the middle of the day?
If you answered yes, then it’s a good bet you’re already listening the FM 105 Beehive radio and its daily block of opposition political programming.
From 11 am to 2 pm, three parties outside of the government get a chance to put their messages on the air—a challenge in the Cambodian media, which is heavily focused on the ruling party.
“The CPP dominates 90 percent of radio and television [political] coverage,” said Mar Sophal, monitoring chief for the Committee for Free and Fair Elections, which reviews the political content of Cambodian media.
The CPP’s coalition partner Funcinpec also has a firm foothold in the media with the party effectively having control over two radio stations: FM 90.5 Ta Prohm radio and FM 90.
For the Sam Rainsy Party, the Human Rights Party and the Norodom Ranariddh Party, an hour a piece back-to-back is the best they can do for the time being.
“The government has refused to give a license to the SRP, [so] we must buy airtime from [FM] 105,” SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang said, echoing remarks from the other two parties.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith explained that his ministry couldn’t hand out radio licenses to every party wanting one because there are around 30 political parties in Cambodia.
“Political parties have money so they can buy airtime from radio stations. Let the radio stations do business to survive,” he said. “We have too many radio stations.”
Beehive radio’s opposition mini-marathon begins each day at 11 am with the SRP’s “Candle Light” program, typically involving speeches from party President Sam Rainsy, chats with SRP parliamentarians, complaints concerning the voter registration process and appeals for voters to head to the polls. Segments are broken up by musical interludes, featuring lyrics that promote the party’s causes.
And of course there is no shortage of attacks on the government or pro-SRP cheerleading. Here’s a sample from an anchor last week: “The current leaders do nothing about the country’s education, illegal immigrants, low salaries and rising prices. The SRP’s success is the country’s success.”
For listeners who decide to stay tuned, they will be treated to the HRP’s “Human Rights Voice” from noon to 1 pm.
HRP President Kem Sokha said in August that the program would be a means to educate the public about human rights and not a party mouthpiece, but it certainly doesn’t play out that way. Listeners are given a standard mix of Kem Sokha speeches, news snippets about HRP supporters being harassed by local officials and roundtable discussion participants fawning over the newly-created party.
A recent commentary by HRP Takeo provincial chief Keat Sokun gives a good feel for the party’s rhetoric: “The Human Rights Party is not a puppet party…. Our party will serve and build up the country and our integrity.”
With Prince Norodom Ranariddh staying abroad to avoid a prison sentence, mass media is probably most important for the NRP, whose “Royalist Voice” program airs each day from 1 to 2 pm. The program offers a chance for Prince Ranariddh to speak directly to his supporters, protest his innocence, encourage voters to register and, of course, take shots at other political parties—particularly Funcinpec.
“Do not put your hopes in Funcinpec, the party that is waiting to die,” he told listeners last week.
The prince even broadcast his theory as to why the government wouldn’t give his party a radio license, saying: “They want to shut up Prince Norodom Ranariddh because I still talk and engage in politics—they constantly do bad things against me.”
HRP Deputy President Keo Remy said that even though it was only one hour, the “Human Rights Voice” program was important for competing with the CPP’s considerable media resources.
“People have told us it is important, they like to listen to it,” he said. “People have hugged the radio until their wives said they had mental problems.”
Eng Chhay Eang said the SRP program was a powerful means to get unfiltered information to the voters.
“No one can exaggerate the information,” he said. “It is one hour that really helps the party. Our message reaches many voters.”
CPP and Funcinpec officials both said that they welcome the purchasing of airtime by their political opponents, but took issue with the amount and type of criticism they broadcast each day.
Funcinpec spokesman Nouv Sovathero said Funcinpec never criticizes other parties on the radio, and took particular issue with the NRP program.
“We have listened to the ‘Royalist Voice’ program,” he said. “[Prince Ranariddh] at the moment has no conscience…he just wants revenge on Funcinpec.”
Khieu Kanharith was even stronger in his condemnation of the shows, calling them “garbage programs” in an e-mail.
“It is election campaigning, by cursing the government to strengthen their parties, the voters will not support them,” he said. “They are showing that they are not leaders.”
But concerns regarding content aside, it is hard to judge exactly how effective politicking over the airwaves can be in Cambodia. Beehive says that its programs are broadcast in 20 provinces and municipalities—but is not sure how many listeners it actually has.
Khieu Kanharith said there are about 1 million television sets in Phnom Penh and an even larger number of radios, but added that the Information Ministry has never conducted surveys on the number of radios owned or listening habits nationwide.