Amid a sprawling government clampdown on independent media, Voice of Democracy has been taken off the airwaves in what its director on Friday derided as a politically motivated move ahead of next year’s general election.
The Cambodian Center for Independent Media, which runs VOD, said in a statement that the NGO’s radio station partners stopped broadcasting its radio shows this week “without clear reasons.”
VOD broadcasts in Phnom Penh were blocked on Tuesday and Wednesday, while stations broadcasting its shows in Siem Reap, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces were taken off the air on Thursday.
“CCIM believes that the action of the government to shut down independent media in Cambodia is politically motivated in preparation for the general elections scheduled for July next year,” the statement said.
Contacted after the statement’s release, Pa Nguon Teang, the center’s executive director and director of VOD, said the owners of the stations that broadcasted its programs offer no explanation.
“We air by the stations owned by others and we were told by the station owners that they cannot continue broadcasting VOD anymore and then we asked questions and they said that they just want to stop. They didn’t give any reason,” he said.
“We think this is politically motivated pressure from the government on the station owner and that’s why they stopped broadcasting our program immediately without any reason,” he said.
Mr. Nguon Teang said VOD would likely continue putting out shows online, but that it would not be returning to radio.
“We hope only to be going online, we don’t have any hopes to be back on air,” he said, before reiterating the reasons he felt VOD had been targeted.
“I think the ruling party is scared of problems in next year’s election. The competition between the ruling party and the opposition CNRP is very competitive and that’s why the ruling party tries to do everything to silence the voice of critics,” he said.
The removal of VOD from the airwaves comes amid an onslaught from the government against independent media.
The Information Ministry has refused to renew the media license of The Cambodia Daily until it settles a disputed $6.3 million tax bill, while stations broadcasting Voice of America and Radio Free Asia have also been pulled from the air this week.
Contacted on Friday, Ouk Kimseng, spokesman for Information Ministry, said about a dozen stations had been shuttered for violating their contracts, declining to elaborate.
They “didn’t keep their promise, so they’ve closed,” he said. “It could have been 11 or 12, it is more than 10 in Phnom Penh and other provinces.”
Human Rights Watch (HRW) slammed what it described as the government’s “escalating campaign of politically-motivated harassment, intimidation, and legal action against the media” on Friday.
“The Cambodian government’s shutdown of independent media outlets and a respected democracy promotion group shows that Hun Sen is intensifying efforts to curb criticism of his rule,” Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director said in a statement.
“Diplomats and donors should put Hun Sen on notice that if he doesn’t reverse course, elections in 2018 won’t be considered credible.”
(Additional reporting by Chhorn Phearun)