Dozens of journalists will gather at Phnom Penh International Airport today to cover one of the year’s biggest news stories: Sam Rainsy’s return. Reuters, Associated Press and others will be there, but officials at state-owned and private pro-ruling party media said that they had little interest in the event.
Several TV channels said that although they would send reporters, they were not sure if the news would be important enough to make it onto television or radio, and national broadcaster TVK said they would ignore the event entirely.
“We will not cover the return of Mr. Sam Rainsy because we did not receive an order from the upper level,” Kem Gunawadh, general director of TVK, said, referring to the Ministry of Information.
On Wednesday, Mr. Gunawadh said he was even uncertain that Mr. Rainsy would come back to Cambodia at all because the Information Ministry had not personally notified him of it yet.
“I just heard a rumor that he is coming back but, but I didn’t hear anything from the ministry. I did not receive any official announcement,” he said.
Yin Sovy, editor of TV3’s news department, said that his staff was too busy reporting on election-related news to bother with Mr. Rainsy.
“We will not send anyone to cover the return of Mr. Sam Rainsy on Friday morning because we are now covering electoral campaigns in the provinces,” he said.
Three other major broadcasters—Bayon TV, CTN and Apsara TV—did confirm that they would send teams of reporters and cameramen to the airport, however, none of the stations contacted knew if they would actually broadcast Mr. Rainsy’s arrival, or his speech at Freedom Park where he is scheduled to address more than 20,000 supporters.
“We will send a cameraman and a reporter…but we are not sure yet whether to broadcast or not because some news is not fit for broadcast,” Ma Yarith, manager of Apsara TV’s Apsara Net, said without elaborating on the criteria for news broadcasts.
Apsara is run by the sons of senior officials in Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.
CTN, which is owned by Royal Group, whose chairman Kith Meng is often seen in the company of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and Bayon TV, managed by Mr. Hun Sen’s eldest daughter, Hun Mana, said that they would send reporters, but they were not sure whether they would broadcast the news.
Buth Bovuth, the Information Ministry’s director-general, said that all broadcasters—including TVK—make independent decisions on which events to cover, and that it was up to Mr. Gunawadh whether the national station would cover the opposition leader’s return.
“The ministry appointed Mr. Gunawadh to be in charge of broadcasting. Mr. Gunawadh is responsible for sending a cameraman and a reporter to cover every event,” Mr. Bovuth said.
Pa Nguon Teang, director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media, was critical of TVK’s decision to ignore the event.
“Even if private [pay] TV doesn’t cover it, it’s really bad. But it’s much worse for TVK, because they are operated with public budget and don’t cover what happens in society. That clearly shows they are not state-owned TV, but party-owned,” Mr. Nguon Teang said, referring to Mr. Hun Sen’s CPP.
Mr. Nguon Teang said the reticence to cover the event showed that the Cambodian public could not rely on state, or private, TV stations to hear of Mr. Rainsy’s return after years in self-imposed exile.
“TV managers and news managers are not independent; they are biased with the ruling party and they will not cover the event because this would benefit the opposition party,” Mr. Nguon Teang said.
TV is the primary source of information for almost half of the population, he continued.
“They lose the chance to see Mr. Sam Rainsy return and they won’t know about it,” especially in rural areas, where people depend more heavily on a single source of information, such as TV and radio, as opposed to urban areas, Mr. Nguon Teang added.