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NEWS: CAMBODIA RADIO
STATION FORCED TO MAKE
PROGRAMME CHANGES BY
RULING PARTY
by
GRANT GODDARD
www.grantgoddard.co.uk
May ...
Controversy over a radio call-in show’s criticism of Cambodia’s ruling political
party has forced the station to change it...
On 5th May, Ta Prohm Director Noranarith Anandayath said he had complied
with the FUNCINPEC order and temporarily removed ...
News: Cambodia Radio Station Forced To Make Programme Changes By Ruling Party page 4
©2004 Grant Goddard
Political observe...
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'News: Cambodia Radio Station Forced To Make Programme Changes By Ruling Party' by Grant Goddard

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News story about a radio station in Phnom Penh, Cambodia forced to change its programmes as a result of pressure from the country's ruling party, written by Grant Goddard in May 2004 for Radio World magazine.

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'News: Cambodia Radio Station Forced To Make Programme Changes By Ruling Party' by Grant Goddard

  1. 1. NEWS: CAMBODIA RADIO STATION FORCED TO MAKE PROGRAMME CHANGES BY RULING PARTY by GRANT GODDARD www.grantgoddard.co.uk May 2004
  2. 2. Controversy over a radio call-in show’s criticism of Cambodia’s ruling political party has forced the station to change its programming and momentarily stalled negotiations to form the country’s new coalition government. The ruling Cambodian People’s Party [CPP] broke off coalition talks with the National United Front for an Independent, Peaceful and Co-operative Cambodia [FUNCINPEC], blaming Phnom Penh radio station “Ta Prohm 90.5 FM” for broadcasting programmes critical of the CPP. The station subsequently agreed to remove all controversial programming from its schedule, including the call-in show, to avoid a recurrence of political violence that claimed the life of its Deputy Editor last year. In February 2004, the CPP and FUNCINPEC had agreed a media truce, under which their respective Phnom Penh-based FM radio stations ceased criticism of each other’s party. In March, the two parties had started talks to form a new coalition government, breaking a deadlock that has left Cambodia without a government since the July 2003 general election. Then, on 3rd May, CPP spokesperson Khieu Kanharith alleged that “Ta Prohm Radio increased its attacks on the CPP, which is contrary to the agreement. Therefore, the CPP is suspending [coalition] talks.” He made two demands: that FUNCINPEC remove Ta Prohm station director Noranarith Anandayath, whose on-air commentaries were thought to be at the heart of the dispute; and that the two parties renew their media truce. “If FUNCINPEC does not agree to these two conditions,” Khieu Kanharith declared, “there will be no talks and [CPP leader and Prime Minister] Hun Sen and [FUNCINPEC President] Prince Norodom Ranariddh will never meet again. Gentlemen and leaders must adhere to their promises and, if they don’t keep their promises, it exposes their lack of ethics.” Within hours, FUNCINPEC Secretary-General Prince Norodom Sirivudh issued a public statement that ordered Noranarith Anandayath to cease criticism of the CPP on Ta Prohm: “I would like you to suspend the programmes that affect [the] Prime Minister and the Cambodian People’s Party…… from today on. Please implement this effectively.” The following day, FUNCINPEC spokesperson Kassie Neou called a press conference at the party’s headquarters to announce that Ta Prohm had agreed to cease programming critical of the CPP. He tried to argue that the station had not broken the media truce because it had merely been disseminating information permitted by press freedom laws, and he suggested the CPP might be searching for an excuse to avoid contentious issues that FUNCINPEC had raised in the coalition talks. Later that day, FUNCINPEC’s Prince Norodom Ranariddh said he was unable to accede to the CPP’s demand to dismiss the Ta Prohm director at the centre of the controversy. Returning home from a month-long stay in France, the Prince told reporters at Phnom Penh International Airport that he could not dismiss Noranarith Anandayath because FUNCINPEC did not own the radio station. “I will not meet [CPP leader] Hun Sen and I will not sign any further contracts with him,” he said. The CPP’s response followed quickly from Hun Sen adviser Om Yentieng: “Ask FUNCINPEC to open its eyes,” he told the Cambodia Daily. “When FUNCINPEC told the CPP that Ta Prohm radio station does not reflect what FUNCINPEC wants, I wanted to laugh.” News: Cambodia Radio Station Forced To Make Programme Changes By Ruling Party page 2 ©2004 Grant Goddard
  3. 3. On 5th May, Ta Prohm Director Noranarith Anandayath said he had complied with the FUNCINPEC order and temporarily removed from the schedule any programming that could be perceived as inflammatory, including call-in shows. New shows that had been planned to discuss contentious issues such as Cambodia’s territorial sovereignty, corruption and poverty were now replaced in the schedule by listeners’ letters, music, folk stories and an account of King Norodom Sihanouk’s accomplishments. Noranarith Anandayath argued that Ta Prohm staff “haven’t done anything wrong” as the station had simply been broadcasting programmes “geared towards what people want to hear. I stopped the programmes because I want the CPP to feel secure. I don’t want to tear them apart.” On 6th May, the CPP appeared to back down from its original demand for the dismissal of the Ta Prohm director. “[Coalition] negotiations will continue,” announced CPP spokesman Khieu Kanharith and admitted that the CPP had already contacted FUNCINPEC “to clarify some points.” He said his complaints three days earlier about Ta Prohm were “just a reminder” to FUNCINPEC that it should “show willingness to work together” to form a new coalition government. Later that day, FUNCINPEC Secretary-General Prince Norodom Sirivudh and his CPP counterpart, Say Chhum, signed an agreement to resume coalition talks and to renew the media truce avoiding criticism of each other’s party. The radio station director at the centre of the dispute, Noranarith Anandayath, told the Cambodia Daily: “I’m just dumbfounded. We haven’t done anything wrong. We don’t insult [Prime Minister] Hun Sen. We don’t insult the CPP.” This is not the first time that Ta Prohm has fallen foul of CPP criticism. Last October, the Prime Minister publicly warned Ta Prohm to stop insulting him in its programmes, and demanded that FUNCINPEC control its radio station “to avoid any conflicts.” Days later, Ta Prohm Deputy Editor Chour Chetharith was shot dead by two gunmen on a motorbike as he arrived for work at the station. Four further political shootings followed within days, including the attempted assassination of female pop singer Tuch Sonnich, allegedly about to record a song sympathetic to FUNCINPEC, who was shot three times in the face, and the assassination of her mother, shot in the back. This new dispute is displaying ominously similar signs. On 1st May, the Prime Minister warned that he would use all forces at his disposal to take strong measures to deal with any act of “terrorism” against the government during the coalition talks deadlock. On 8th May, returning home from work, prominent trade union leader Ros Sovannareth was shot dead by two men on a motorbike, the second such Free Trade Union officer assassinated this year. Then, on 9th May, the CPP wrote once again to FUNCINPEC, reminding it of the renewed media truce. CPP spokesperson Khieu Kanharith claimed that Ta Prohm was continuing to defy the agreement. Ta Prohm station director Noranarith Anandayath strenuously denied the accusation: “My radio station has not made any mistakes in regard to the recent agreement between [FUNCINPEC] and [the CPP]. We did not attack the CPP.” News: Cambodia Radio Station Forced To Make Programme Changes By Ruling Party page 3 ©2004 Grant Goddard
  4. 4. News: Cambodia Radio Station Forced To Make Programme Changes By Ruling Party page 4 ©2004 Grant Goddard Political observers are expressing fears that this argument over Ta Prohm’s programming threatens press freedom in Cambodia. Chea Vannath, President of the Centre for Social Development, said: “I fear that the freedom of the press, radio and television, especially, is going backwards.” In the general election of July 2003, the CPP won 73 of the 123 seats in the National Assembly, but failed to reach the two-thirds minimum required by the Constitution to govern alone. The CPP has continued to govern, though the Assembly has not met since May 2003, delaying important legislation such as the tribunal to consider charges against former Khmer Rouge leaders and Cambodia’s membership of the World Trade Organisation. [First published in 'Radio World' as 'Phone-In Controversy: Radio Station Forced To Make Programming Changes By Cambodia's Ruling Party', July 2004, p.3] Grant Goddard is a media analyst / radio specialist / radio consultant with thirty years of experience in the broadcasting industry, having held senior management and consultancy roles within the commercial media sector in the United Kingdom, Europe and Asia. Details at http://www.grantgoddard.co.uk

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