Still No Room on the TV Dial for Radio’s Mam Sonando

The government on Tuesday defended its repeated refusal to give a TV license to political gadfly Mam Sonando despite agreeing just last week to make room for the opposition CNRP to operate an analog station.

Mr. Sonando, a radio station owner and a frequent and vocal critic of the ruling CPP, has been asking for a TV license since 2005. But the Information Ministry has shot down every request on a variety of grounds, most often claiming that the country’s airwaves simply don’t have the space.

The state news service Agence Kampuchea Presse (AKP) has also cited Information Minister Khieu Kanharith arguing that Mr. Sonando was too political, and that political parties were barred from running a station.

Despite the government’s objections to Mr. Sonando’s political bent, Prime Minister Hun Sen last week said the CNRP would be getting a TV station of its own soon, fulfilling an offer he made the opposition party in July to help break a political stalemate over last year’s disputed national election.

The Information Ministry followed up with a letter explaining that it would make room for the CNRP by “confiscating” an old license from someone else.

Asked Tuesday about the Information Ministry’s past claims that there were no available frequencies for Mr. Sonando, Mr. Kanharith said via social media that he still held the “same position” but declined to explain how a frequency could nonetheless be opened up for the CNRP.

Mr. Kanharith also denied making any political assertions about Mr. Sonando or his Beehive Radio station, despite a January report from AKP, which is run by his ministry, saying he had.

“H.E. Minister [Mr. Kanharith] said the ministry lacks frequencies and according to the law TV license is granted only to private sector, not to political parties, and Beehive Radio used to announce its support to a political party,” the state news agency reported at the time.

Technically, the CNRP has had to register a private company, Cambodia Independent Media, with the Commerce Ministry to run its new TV station.

On Tuesday, Mr. Sonando said that requirement was merely a way for Mr. Hun Sen to bend the rules banning parties from running stations in order to make his deal with CNRP President Sam Rainsy and get the opposition to call off its boycott of parliament.

“It’s a huge injustice not just for me but for all other political parties,” Mr. Sonando said. “Hun Sen is very aware that this private company is serving the CNRP. As head of the government, Hun Sen should be treating everyone fairly in terms of granting licenses for new TV and radio stations.”

By making an exception for the CNRP, he said, the prime minister “is teaching people to violate the law.”

Undeterred, Mr. Sonando said he was getting ready to apply for a TV license once again. He said the government was claiming to be confiscating an old license from someone else merely to keep up the fiction that there is no room on the TV dial.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh, who heads the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said that with only about 12 TV stations currently operating, there was clearly room for more. And the government’s decision to make way for a CNRP-run station was more proof that it could make room for Mr. Sonando —if it wanted to.

“If the government is willing…they will do so,” Mr. Chhean Nariddh said, adding he was not aware of any law prohibiting a political party from running a station.

“So far, all TV stations are either controlled by the government or aligned to the government, and they want to have a monopoly.”

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