Media watchdog Reporters Sans Frontieres has protested media regulations proposed by the National Election Committee, saying they contravene international agreements on human rights.
In a statement received here Wednesday, the Paris-based pressure group targeted article 6 of the NEC’s media regulations, which bans all privately owned newspapers, television and radio stations from broadcasting material that “serves the interest of individuals, groups or political parties.”
“Reporters Sans Frontieres considers that article 6 represents an infringement of press freedom and freedom of expression as laid down in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Cambodia has ratified,” the statement declared.
Article 19 enshrines the right of all individuals to freedom of opinion or expression and to “seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media.”
On that basis, the group called for the NEC to strike article 6 from the media regulation, “since it considers that privately run television channels and newspapers have a right to broadcast or publish information about the elections so long as they respect established standards of fairness.”
Officials from the NEC’s media office were unavailable for comment Wednesday, although one spokesman said the body was preparing a reaction to the RSF statement.
While media watchers and journalists have complained that the regulations are a gag on the press, some acknowledge that the rules, while not granting any freedoms, at least partially limit the government’s tight grip over the nominally private television stations.
In a June 4 letter to the NEC, expressing concerns over the media regulations, a group of local NGOs called for newspapers to be exempted from the rules.
For the broadcast media, the NGOs asked that there not be any NEC censorship of voter education materials or political party messages broadcast on national television and radio.
They also proposed that private stations, while not carrying political party messages, should broadcast voter education material free of charge.
The NGOs also requested a change in the scheduling of election-related programming to ensure it reaches the widest possible audience.
Committee for Free and Fair Elections representative Koul Panha said Tuesday that after negotiations with state broadcaster TVK, the NEC had agreed to schedule the broadcasting of five-minute messages from political parties between 12:30 pm and 2:30 pm, and from 5:30 pm to 7:30 pm.
The NEC previously planned to air the slots from 8 am to 11 am and from 2:30 pm to 5:30 pm.
“Comfrel said that if they did not change, then we will not cooperate with the [electoral] process,” said Comfrel spokesman Thun Saray.
(Additional reporting by Kay Johnson)