In a blow against freedom of the press, the Cambodian government recently pulled Voice of America and Radio Free Asia programming from a Phnom Penh station. The F-M station known as Beehive radio began airing the international broadcasts on September 23rd, 2002. Voice of America and Radio Free Asia provided Cambodian listeners with balanced and fact-based reporting on issues regarding Cambodia, southeast Asia, and the world. In addition, listeners received information about the people and culture of the United States.
The Cambodian constitution provides for limited freedom of expression, press, and publication. But the government implicitly limits free speech because it reserves the right to censor anything that it says adversely affects public security. It is also against the law to criticize the king. While the press law grants journalists a number of rights, it also includes a vaguely worded prohibition on publishing articles that affect national security and political stability.
The Cambodian government, military, and ruling political parties continue to dominate the broadcast media and influence their content. Procedures for licensing and allocating radio and television frequencies are not impartial. In an effort to keep their broadcast licenses, journalists reportedly practice self-censorship. And in recent years, the opposition Sam Rainsy Party has been unable to get a broadcast license.
There are six television stations in Cambodia and all are controlled or influenced by the government. Central control severely limits the content of television broadcasting. Election observers and political parties running against the ruling Cambodian People’s Party in local elections say they have been denied equal access to the media during past election campaigns. If the upcoming election process in 2003 is to be free and fair by international standards, opposition parties must be given equal access to all forms of media, especially broadcast media.
Both domestic media and international broadcasters like Voice of America and Radio Free Asia have an important role to play in Cambodia’s democratic development. The Cambodian people are entitled to all the news and information about their country, the region, and the world. It is time for the Cambodian government to open the country to the free flow of information.