Restrictions on Media Will Impact Upcoming Election: Expert

Media expert Pa Nguon Teang told the Hello VOA program on Thursday that the government’s moves to restrict independent media outlets and NGOs would undermine the democratic process in Cambodia.

In recent weeks, Prime Minister Hun Sen branded the English-language Cambodia Daily newspaper a “thief” for allegedly not paying taxes for the past 25 years, giving it until Monday to pay a $6.3 million bill or face closure and the seizure of its assets and bank accounts.

Two days later, the government ordered the closure of U.S.-funded NGO the National Democratic Institute (NDI), for allegedly operating without a license.

The moves against U.S.-funded institutions continued with the closure of at least a dozen radio stations that sold air time to Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, with the information minister, Khieu Kanharith, threatening legal action against station owners he claimed was “in breach of trust” with the ministry.

Nguon Teang, the founder and executive director of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), which ran Voice of Democracy (VOD), one of the media outlets targeted by the government, told Hello VOA that the moves would harm democracy and due process in Cambodia ahead of next year’s election.

“Independent media is really important for the people. Why is it so important? Because it provides the truth and provides information from all sides of the political spectrum to the people,” he said.

“Voters can then decide what political parties they support, but they can’t do that unless they have enough information. That’s why democratic countries need to have independent media for the democratic process.”

As the head of VOD, he issued an apology to listeners who would no longer be able to receive regular programming.

Separately, in an interview with VOA last week, Congressman Alan Lowenthal criticized the crackdown on independent media in Cambodia.

“It’s just a pattern that the government is escalating now of trying to eliminate any free press, any criticisms of the government, any help to get the people to understand what their rights are in the election and to promote a free and fair election,” he said.

“There is no doubt that the government now has taken the gloves off and really wants to restrict all freedoms in Cambodia and the United States must step up and vigorously condemn Cambodia and that’s what … we are going to hope that the entire Congress does … and we are going to ask the administration to do more,” he added.