Smaller Parties Decry Media Regulations

Media regulations that give    90 percent of public broadcast time to the three major political parties are placing a stranglehold on smaller opposition parties, some party leaders said Tuesday.

Twenty parties vying for votes in the July 27 general elections will split one-tenth of the election news air time according to a “broadcast equity” format adopted by the National Election Com­mission.

Speaking at a meeting between the NEC and party representatives, the deputy secretary of the Hang Dara Democratic Move­ment called the media arrangement a concession to the CPP.

“The NEC shouldn’t offer much time percentage to the Cambodian People’s Party when all media stations belong to the party,” said Hang Samrith. “This division is just legalized action by the CPP to the ruling party.”

The equity plan, which gives time to parties proportional to the positions they hold in current government, allots 44 percent of election news air time to the ruling CPP and 27 percent to Funcinpec. The Sam Rainsy Party will have 19 percent of the broadcast time.

TVK and two state-owned radio stations will broadcast the news.

Hang Samrith and others urged the NEC to reshape the equity format to give equal amounts of air time to all 23 participating parties.

“We have paid the same am­ount of money [to register with] the NEC in the election,” said Sun Sokunmealea, deputy president of the Khmer Front Party. “The three main political parties are not exactly who will win the elections, so the NEC should offer equal time to all parties.”

But NEC spokesman Leng Sochea defended the broadcast system in a phone interview Tuesday, saying it was the same model employed by the US-based television station C-SPAN during the US presidential elections.

Over the course of about         40 days of news broadcast, the    10 percent given to coverage of smaller parties is significant, Leng Sochea said. He also said that some smaller parties did not understand the equity concept.

“Big fish get big food. Small fish get small food,” he said. “The food they get every day is proportional to their body.”

A Sam Rainsy Party official attending a forum on media issues also balked at the NEC regulations and what he called a CPP-dominated media. The party applied to the Ministry of Infor­mation to establish a radio station, but its request was denied, said Senator Kong Koam.

“Although the private stations are private, they support the CPP,” he said. Kong Koam was one of a four-member panel at an NGO-sponsored forum at the Sunway Hotel on Monday. Representatives from Funcinpec, the Cambodian Women’s Party and the Khmer Democratic Party also attended.

CPP officials were invited but did not attend the event, said organizer Buth Raksmei Kungkea of the NGO Impacs.

The Committee for Free and Fair Elections says it is prepping 11 monitors to observe the media during the election period. The group said it would focus on TVK’s equity broadcast and the impartiality of TVK news programs. Coverage scheduled to begin Thursday isn’t likely to start until late next week, said NEC media adviser Daphne Skillen.

A UNDP program to coach TVK journalists in their election news coverage is on hold until shipments of needed production equipment arrive from Singapore and Bangkok, Skillen said.

Meanwhile, the Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections has launched its first long-term election observation, beginning this week and extending to 15 days after the elections.

Two monitors are assigned to each district in the provinces of Svay Rieng, Kompong Cham, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Siem Reap, Kompong Thom and Koh Kong, Nicfec Director Hang Puthea said at a news conference Monday. A report on suspected political killings and voter intimidation will be released every Thursday, he said.

Authorities have denied that any of the recent slayings in the country have been politically motivated, and on Tuesday Hun Neng, the provincial governor of Svay Rieng, said that the shooting death of Sim Saran last week was the result of a personal dispute.

Sim Saran, a former CPP member, joined the Sam Rainsy Party in 1998, a Sam Rainsy Party spokesman said this week. No arrests have been made in the case.

(Additional reporting by Luke Reynolds)

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