There’s more bad news concerning election coverage access. An independent report released Tuesday said the CPP unfairly dominates the airwaves on state-owned TV and radio.
The report by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections monitored six television channels and seven radio stations in Phnom Penh and five provinces for the week beginning Jan 4.
A 10-person Comfrel team, which monitored broadcasts for six hours daily, concluded that 82 percent of air time devoted to political programming was filled with news of government activities.
Only three political parties were mentioned. Reports of the CPP received 9 percent of the time, while Funcinpec and the Sam Rainsy Party received less than 1 percent.
The report raises further questions about the government’s commitment to equal access for all political parties as the Feb 3 commune council elections near. The National Election Committee originally said all parties could share 70 minutes daily during the two-week campaign that starts Friday.
Election organizations and NGOs began taping roundtable discussions of issues and election procedures, featuring all parties, to be broadcast during the campaign. A series of six candidate debates was organized in Phnom Penh and five provinces; the first is to be held Saturday in Kampot.
But last week, the NEC decided not to broadcast the roundtables or debates, saying they could not be sure participants would follow the rules or that the programs would be fair to all candidates.
The cancellations raised a storm of criticism from political activists and diplomats, particularly since the programs were to be taped in advance and any objectionable material could be edited out.
Sources at the NEC said the matter was discussed Tuesday at a meeting with European Union advisers, and it is expected to be a topic at today’s semi-annual donor meeting at the Council of Ministers.
Concerns over equal access date back to the 1998 national election, when monitors found that media access for political parties was markedly uneven.
Monitors in 1998 examined coverage on Apsara and Bayon radio and TV, two private companies closely linked to the CPP.
“In the months preceding the campaign, the ruling party took advantage of state and quasi-state media resources at its disposal without any sign of intervention by the National Election Committee,” Comfrel wrote in its report on the 1998 elections.
In the last month before the 1998 election, the stations featured the CPP 446 times, while all other parties were mentioned a total of 25 times, the monitors said.
According to that Comfrel report, state-owned broadcast media compiled a better record during the formal campaign period, providing even-handed, if limited, access by offering each of the 39 parties five minutes per day during the two-week campaign season.
Uk Phourik, president of the Khmer Democratic Party, said small parties like his are hit hardest by the recent cancellations. They will have to go door-to-door to present their platform, he said, and they just don’t have enough bodies to do it.
“Even if we do it 1,000 times, we cannot compete with just one broadcast by a big party, which will draw thousands of supporters,” he said.
Uk Phourik said he was disappointed that the roundtables featuring his party will not air. He said his only option is to hire a remarque to carry volunteers who will distribute leaflets to voters.