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Election Reporting Banned

May Titthara / Khmer Times Share:

The Information Ministry has banned journalists from publishing any information about the results of the next elections before the ministry does to avoid what they claim would cause “confusion to the public.”
 
Information Minister Khieu Kanharith told a seminar on Tuesday that the ministry was ordering news outlets to “stay quiet” during voting because any reporting signaling either side was in the lead would have an effect on subsequent voter turnout.
 
“In short, please be quiet. They can report anything after the election finishes. This is to make people work calmly,” he said.
 
Commune elections will be held on June 4, 2017, and the national election will be in July 2018.
 
The government tried something similar in 2013 when it banned all foreign radio stations from broadcasting for a month before the national election and threatened legal action against any outlets that disobeyed the order.
 
National Election Committee (NEC) officials and government ministers defended the decision, claiming the foreign press was “uneven” and not “neutral.”
 
However, the decision was scrapped less than a week later after withering criticism from civil society organizations in Cambodia and the US government, all of whom claimed the decision directly violated the constitution.
 
In 2012 the Information Ministry banned FM radio stations from broadcasting shows from Voice of America and Radio Free Asia and shut down a Voice of Democracy segment on voting irregularities airing on election day.
 
Despite government and ruling party claims of a bias against them among certain news outlets, studies have shown the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is firmly in control of the television media market, with all the local outlets being either owned by or affiliated with the CPP, according to the Asia Foundation in 2014.
 
In a survey done by the same organization, they found that 54 percent of those they asked cited television as their main source of news, with radio second at 27 percent.
 
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) was primed to open its own television and radio stations this year as part of a post-election political agreement. The party raised funds and set up a plot of land to build the facility.
 
But in April, the government shut the project down, claiming the antennae the CNRP planned to erect would affect the health on local residents of Takhmao City.
 
Moun Chhean Narith, the director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, said yesterday the ban made very little sense, as transparency is the bedrock of a democratic society and the counting of votes was a process many were eager to tune into.
 
“We will look at the Election Law to see whether it is truly banned. If it is not, we can report information at all stages of the election. This ban is so unusual,” he said.
 
But the NEC defended the decision, telling Khmer Times it was imperative that journalists respect the full electoral process. Khom Keo Mono, the director of the NEC’s communications department, said during the seminar that the code of conduct for the media during the election process did include some articles that said journalists must not publish any information that the government deems “incitement, discrediting, defamation, discrimination, racism or any language that would incite attacks that can cause disorder and violence.
 
“The ban requests [journalists] not to publish any information which would cause confusion, people to lose confidence in the electoral process, misunderstandings or implications to the public that any injustice is being done to any individual, group or party,” he said.
 
For some, this is precisely why reporting is needed during the voting process, as in the past there have been widespread claims of mismanagement and outright voter fraud from both local and international groups.
 
“This ban is all about the incompetence of the NEC,” said Koul Panha, the executive director of the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia. “The NEC has to do a competent review of elections in order to do it freely and fairly. Normally during elections, they give information to people about the election, except for showing the results until they are finished,” he added.
 
“The Information Ministry has no rules to ban reporting of the electoral process.”

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