UN-Funded ‘Equity’ News Program Scrapped

The U.N.-funded television program “Equity Weekly,” which was created in 2003 with the aim of promoting good governance through issues-based news programs and offering a voice to the political opposition on state-run TVK, has been permanently halted and will not air ahead of July’s national elections.

The show, which produced short investigative news pieces on current affairs and topics such as land rights and the environment, was suspended in No­vem­ber after it broadcast a feature on government-awarded economic land concessions in Ratanakkiri province’s Virachey National Park.

On November 11, the hosts of “Equity Weekly” were forced to apologize for the Virachey park feature, which had discussed the social and environmental impacts of a 50,000-hectare land concession to build rubber plantations. The public apology came after Minister of Environment Mok Mareth had sent a letter to Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith complaining that some images used in the program were archive video footage of forest logging from a different location in Cambodia.

Although the show was axed in November, some had held out hope that it would be restarted, particularly in an election year.

Ouy Bounmy, “Equity Week­ly’s” senior producer, said on Wednesday that the UNDP sent staff at TVK a letter about a month ago stating that the program had been scrapped entirely.

“It’s been completely shut down,” he said, adding that he regretted the decision and that the UNDP did not provide an explanation in the letter. “I don’t know the reason,” he said.

Information Minister Mr. Kanharith said that the show had been dropped due to a lack of U.N. funding.

“No more fund,” he said in a short message.

Prior to previous national elections in 2008 and 2003, the “Equity Weekly” show broadcast a daily show called Equity News, which specifically concentrated on issues related to the election during the campaign period, and gave a rare voice to the country’s opposition political parties.

Equity’s shows were also one of very few television programs to give airtime to human rights ac­tiv­ists and labor unions in the country.

“Equity…was the sole and key source to give professional reporting to citizens,” said Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodian Institute for Media Studies. “Equity is a king in a country where almost all television stations do not produce such independent and professional news.”

Mr. Chhean Nariddh also raised concerns that the program had been axed with the national elections approaching, a time when the public needs to be most informed.

“In particular, we are in the per­iod of election time, a season where people need clear information about political platforms and parliamentary candidates,” Mr. Chhean Nariddh said. “A true democracy absolutely depends on independent news which carries balance and facts.”

All TV stations in Cambodia broadcast news and information almost exclusively supportive of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.

Yim Sovann, spokesman for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, said that “Equity Weekly” was the only program that ever asked opposition parties for their opinion.

“I am not happy with the decision because at least we got 10 percent [of the show’s airtime]. If the show dies, it’s even worse…no one interviewed us except for Equity,” Mr. Sovann said.

While TVK is the state broadcaster, Bayon TV is owned by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s daughter Hun Mana, Apsara TV is run by the CPP, and CTN is owned by Royal Group, whose chairman Kith Meng is close to Mr. Hun Sen.

Mr. Bounmy, Equity’s senior producer, said that he now hoped to work on a similar show.

Spokesman for the Council of Ministers Phay Siphan said that it was unlikely that TVK would have a similar program.

“Any government in the world does that, their official broadcasting stations…are not supposed to give voice to the opposition,” he said.

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