A daily radio program broadcast simultaneously on 40 private radio stations across the country has been accused by the SRP of bias toward the CPP and flouting National Election Committee regulations in the run-up to this month’s vote.
The program, “People’s View and the Truth,” is broadcast from 9 to noon and 3 to 5 pm daily and features political commentators defending Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP alongside a phone-in forum, in which people talk about politics—though mostly about the CPP.
In Monday’s edition of the program, former lawmaker Sok Pheng, who recently defected from the SRP to the CPP, and Hun Sen adviser Chhum Kosal hosted an hour-long segment entitled “A clarification of accusations against the CPP.”
Attacking the SRP at length, Sok Pheng accused SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang of forcing him to accept a bribe to help cover up evidence of corruption in the SRP. Later, Chhum Kosal accused SRP President Sam Rainsy of making unfounded allegations against the CPP.
“He insults individuals and abuses elections rules,” Chhum Kosal said of Sam Rainsy, adding that the aim of the show was to clarify political issues for listeners and to respond to attacks on the CPP by the SRP.
The remainder of the show, which is produced by FM 97 Apsara Radio, was made up of random phone-in guests, who were pro-CPP.
Sok Ey San, Apsara director and president of the Radio Association, insisted Monday that callers are allowed to speak freely on the show and that it is open to everybody, regardless of their political affiliation.
“This program is just about the people’s views,” Sok Ey San said. “We don’t campaign for the CPP; we try to clarify issues that the voters have been lied to about,” he said.
“If they attack the CPP, we reserve the right to defend the CPP,” he said.
NEC regulations state that while political parties are free to buy airtime on private radio stations, stations must ensure that all parties are given the same opportunity.
SRP lawmaker Yim Sovann complained Monday of what he called an overwhelming bias against the SRP by the nation’s broadcast media.
“[The CPP] controls almost all the private radio and television stations,” he said, adding that the NEC was failing to take effective measures to level the broadcasting playing field.
Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia Director Koul Panha said the new radio program reflected the general imbalance in political coverage, particularly on television and radio.
The NEC guidelines are being violated constantly, he said, both in terms of the lack of balance in coverage and the high level of insulting and defamatory claims being made against politicians.
Koul Panha said the NEC was consistently failing in its duties to enforce its guidelines on political coverage by the media.
“The CPP uses the broadcast media in a big way, both during the campaign and at other times, and it does have a big influence on how people vote,” he said.
NEC Secretary-General Tep Nytha said Monday that the NEC would remind media representatives to respect its rules regarding balanced political coverage.
He confirmed that many stations were giving more coverage to the CPP, and said he would appeal to stations to be balanced, including Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, which he said tended to be critical of the CPP.
With regard to the five-hour “People’s View and the Truth,” he said it was technically not against election rules to broadcast such a program. “It is news,” he said.
Government spokesman and Information Minister Khieu Kanharith denied that the CPP enjoyed an unfair advantage in terms of media coverage.
“The program does not support the CPP, it just defends it from false allegations from Sam Rainsy,” he said. “We have the right to self-defense.”
None of the small radio stations involved in relaying the show can broadcast nationwide in the same way that US-funded stations like RFA and VOA—which attack the CPP— can, Khieu Kanharith said.
“They are private radio stations, not public ones, so anyone that has a problem with their programming should go to them individually,” he said.