Cambodia bans foreign radio in advance of elections

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

(Source: Radio Free Asia)

The Cambodian government has ordered local radio stations to stop broadcasting foreign programs ahead of general elections in a move widely seen as a major setback to media freedom in the country and aimed at stifling the voice of the opposition.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration on Tuesday asked all FM stations to cease rebroadcasting Khmer-language radio programs by foreign broadcasters in the run-up to the July 28 elections, saying the move was aimed at “forbidding” foreigners in Cambodia from campaigning for any group in the polls.

Local stations who flout the order face legal action.

“Upon receiving this directive, I would like to ask that all the directors of FM station to implement it accordingly,” acting Information Minister Ouk Pratna said in issuing the order.”If any station doesn’t follow this directive, the Ministry of Information will take legal action against it according to the existing law.”

Khmer programs of at least three foreign broadcasters—U.S.-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA), as well as Radio Australia—will be barred from being aired under the directive.

Three other foreign broadcasters—the state-run Voice of Vietnam and China Radio International and French public radio station RFI—will not be affected as they operate their own stations in Cambodia.

Move ‘questions legitimacy’ of elections

The U.S. government immediately lodged a protest with the Cambodian authorities over the directive, saying it will throw in doubt the legitimacy of the elections, in which Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is widely expected to win, enabling him to extend his 28 years in power.

The CPP has won the last two polls by a landslide despite allegations of fraud and election irregularities.

“The directive is a flagrant infringement on freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and is yet another incident that starkly contradicts the spirit of a healthy democratic process,” John Simmons, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, said in a statement.

“While Royal Government officials at the highest levels have publicly expressed an intention to conduct free and fair elections, these media restrictions, and other efforts to limit freedom of expression, will seriously call into question the legitimacy of the electoral process,” he said.

About 10 local FM stations carry Khmer programs by RFA, which also broadcasts on shortwave in Cambodia.

RFA said in a statement that it “remains committed to bringing objective, accurate, and balanced election coverage to the people of Cambodia at this critical time” and vowed that it “will do so on every delivery platform available.”

“The Ministry of Information’s directive doesn’t stem from complaints of programming irregularities, but rather is a blatant strategy to silence the types of disparate and varied voices that characterize an open and free society,” it said.

Beehive Radio

Mam Sonando, a Cambodian activist who runs the independent Beehive Radio and an ardent critic of Hun Sen’s administration, called the ban “illegal” and “childish” but added that he would comply with the order.

He said the order would hurt political parties scrambling to convey their messages to the people ahead of the elections.

Mam Sonando, who owns Beehive Radio, told RFA earlier this week that the Information Ministry is restricting overseas groups from buying airtime at Beehive Radio and had turned down requests to set up relay stations to beam to the provinces.

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it was puzzled by the Cambodian government’s suggestion of foreign meddling in the elections.

“There has been no history in Cambodia of foreigners participating on a partisan basis in elections,” said Brad Adams, executive director of Asia Division. “What this is really about is they don’t want foreigners coming in and observing the elections and then doing their job independently and professionally and then reporting their results.”

He said the Hun Sen government was trying to prevent reporting of events leading up to the elections.

“It’s about the fact that they know the elections are going to be very poor—they are structurally poor, they are poor in implementation and poor in practice and they don’t want this reported,” Adams said.

“The problem is that the world doesn’t work like that anymore. They can’t keep the eyes and ears of the world out. So, the reality is going to be reported.”

The Cambodian government has ordered local radio stations to stop broadcasting foreign programs ahead of general elections in a move widely seen as a major setback to media freedom in the country and aimed at stifling the voice of the opposition.

Prime Minister Hun Sen’s administration on Tuesday asked all FM stations to cease rebroadcasting Khmer-language radio programs by foreign broadcasters in the run-up to the July 28 elections, saying the move was aimed at “forbidding” foreigners in Cambodia from campaigning for any group in the polls.

Local stations who flout the order face legal action.

“Upon receiving this directive, I would like to ask that all the directors of FM station to implement it accordingly,” acting Information Minister Ouk Pratna said in issuing the order.”If any station doesn’t follow this directive, the Ministry of Information will take legal action against it according to the existing law.”

Khmer programs of at least three foreign broadcasters—U.S.-based Radio Free Asia (RFA) and Voice of America (VOA), as well as Radio Australia—will be barred from being aired under the directive.

Three other foreign broadcasters—the state-run Voice of Vietnam and China Radio International and French public radio station RFI—will not be affected as they operate their own stations in Cambodia.

Move ‘questions legitimacy’ of elections

The U.S. government immediately lodged a protest with the Cambodian authorities over the directive, saying it will throw in doubt the legitimacy of the elections, in which Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) is widely expected to win, enabling him to extend his 28 years in power.

The CPP has won the last two polls by a landslide despite allegations of fraud and election irregularities.

“The directive is a flagrant infringement on freedom of the press and freedom of expression, and is yet another incident that starkly contradicts the spirit of a healthy democratic process,” John Simmons, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, said in a statement.

“While Royal Government officials at the highest levels have publicly expressed an intention to conduct free and fair elections, these media restrictions, and other efforts to limit freedom of expression, will seriously call into question the legitimacy of the electoral process,” he said.

About 10 local FM stations carry Khmer programs by RFA, which also broadcasts on shortwave in Cambodia.

RFA said in a statement that it “remains committed to bringing objective, accurate, and balanced election coverage to the people of Cambodia at this critical time” and vowed that it “will do so on every delivery platform available.”

“The Ministry of Information’s directive doesn’t stem from complaints of programming irregularities, but rather is a blatant strategy to silence the types of disparate and varied voices that characterize an open and free society,” it said.

Mam Sonando

Mam Sonando, a Cambodian activist who runs the independent Beehive Radio and an ardent critic of Hun Sen’s administration, called the ban “illegal” and “childish” but added that he would comply with the order.

He said the order would hurt political parties scrambling to convey their messages to the people ahead of the elections.

Mam Sonando, who owns Beehive Radio, told RFA earlier this week that the Information Ministry is restricting overseas groups from buying airtime at Beehive Radio and had turned down requests to set up relay stations to beam to the provinces.

Election reporting

U.S.-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it was puzzled by the Cambodian government’s suggestion of foreign meddling in the elections.

“There has been no history in Cambodia of foreigners participating on a partisan basis in elections,” said Brad Adams, executive director of HRW’s Asia division. “What this is really about is they don’t want foreigners coming in and observing the elections and then doing their job independently and professionally and reporting their results.”

He said the Hun Sen government was trying to prevent reporting of events leading up to the elections.

“It’s about the fact that they know the elections are going to be very poor—they are structurally poor, they are poor in implementation and poor in practice and they don’t want this reported,” Adams said.

Cambodian Center for Independent Media Director Pa Nguon Teang said the ban was aimed at curbing the views of the opposition in the country.

Freedom of the press has increasingly declined in the country, with reporters exposing government corruption and other illegal activity coming under deadly attack and facing death threats, including from the authorities, according to a rights group and local journalists.

Stifling ‘opposition radio’

Pa Nguon Teang felt the directive was specifically aimed at RFA and VOA.

“The ban intends to stifle the voice of RFA and VOA because the government has regarded the two stations as opposition radio stations,” he said, adding that by preventing local stations from carrying programs by the two entities, the government believes it can “silence” the opposition parties.

Local rights group Adhoc’s chief investigator Ny Chakriya said the ministry’s ban is “not based on any applicable laws,” pointing out that “it is illegal and can’t be enforced.”

“The ban is against the constitution because the constitution guarantees freedom of expression,” he said.

Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodia Institute for Media Studies, also called the move a violation of the constitution.

“Any order preventing media dissemination is against the constitution,” he said.

Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Vuthy Huot and Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.

Andy Sennitt (with Focus Asia Pacific) points out that VOA has many affiliate stations in Cambodia that will be affected. VOA still plans to broadcast election coverage on medium wave and shortwave, however.

If this sounds all too familiar, you might remember Zimbabwe’s radio ban earlier this year.

RNW radio equipment for sale

mixing_board(Source: Andy Sennitt via Facebook)

From the Dutch website (my translation):

The disappearance of a number of tasks of Radio Netherlands Worldwide means some of the technical equipment is now available for sale. This includes a fully equipped Network Operations Centre with a network matrix of NTP, a complete Studer system with four presentation cells and and a master console, six Studer ‘WPM’s’, all of the type ‘On-Air’ 3000 or ‘On-Air’ 2500. In addition, many peripherals are offered, including Airtools voice processors.

Are you interested in these assets? Respond by March 15, 2013 by sending an e-mail to roland.hiltermann [a t] rnw.nl

Andy Sennitt: The Media Network years – the future

Media Network, which covered international broadcasting developments, recently ended a 30-year run on RNW. In the first three articles of this series, Andy Sennitt recalled some of the highlights, and in this final part he looks at how international broadcasting might develop in the next ten years.

Below, I am posting the full article from the RNW website. I don’t typically do this, but I would certainly hate for this post to be deleted from the RNW site at some point in the future. I think Andy has great insight into the future of shortwave radio and his comments about international broadcasting are most valid (and, indeed, reflect my own).

Andy, we will miss you in Media Network, but wish you the best in your early retirement.

(Source: RNW)

Part four: the future

RNW headquarters in Hilversum, Netherlands (photo coutesty: RNW)

The first decade of this millennium saw a significant number of international radio broadcasters disappear from the air. For shortwave listeners, it was a decade of doom and gloom as station after station announced that they were ending or reducing their shortwave transmissions.

Hobby clubs which a few decades earlier had complained that international broadcasters were using too many shortwave frequencies were now begging them not to go off the air. I expect this pattern to continue during the next decade, though there will still be a significant amount of shortwave broadcasting to regions such as Africa, South Asia and parts of Latin America.

Shortwave broadcasts to Europe will be mostly from private, low budget stations and to North America from the various private US stations that carry mainly religious or right-wing talk programmes. Major international broadcasters such as the BBC, the Voice of America and its sister stations etc. will continue to have a significant presence, but their languages and targets will be more closely tied to current political developments and/or press freedom issues. There will be very little room for ‘legacy’ services, so in general jobs in international broadcasting will be far less secure than they once were.

China
An exception to this general rule is China, which continues to broadcast in more languages than any other country. Reliable sources with inside information have told me that the reach of some of these services is very small, and that China Radio International is very good at inflating numbers, for example by counting all the spam messages it receives as genuine emails from listeners. Another CRI strategy is to buy airtime on struggling AM stations in the West, although China does not so far offer reciprocal arrangements to Western broadcasters in China.

China also operates several international TV services, and an expanded range of such services from other countries seems certain. In recent months I’ve seen news of several more countries that intend to start TV broadcasts, and some of those already on the air plan to add more languages. The problem is that TV is a lot more expensive to produce than radio. The money has to come from somewhere, and especially in tough times for the economy the radio services usually suffer.

The French connection
It will be interesting to see what happens in France, where the international radio and TV services have been merged into a single organization. If the two can work together effectively, it could prove to be a successful merger that might inspire others to follow suit. I’m thinking of the international services of such countries as Russia, China and Iran, where the radio and TV services rarely mention each other’s existence, as if they are in competition with each other.

I wonder how long it will before we see a TV version of the radio services provided by WRN. When WRN started, it gave international broadcasters a chance to reach a new audience who didn’t listen to shortwave radio, and provided existing listeners with an alternative way of hearing their favourite international stations with better audio quality. Now there are a significant number of international TV channels, but they’re scattered across many different satellites, so only a satellite enthusiast with a large steerable dish and an expensive receiver is likely to see a significant number of them. A WRN-type service, with a variety of TV stations sharing the same transponder, might be a way to make some of the output available to a wider audience.

Websites & apps
In the meantime, the websites of international broadcasters will have to try harder to make people aware of their radio and/or TV programmes, and how to tune them in. It seems ridiculous that some large broadcasters with a staff of hundreds cannot get their act together to produce an accurate schedule of their output. Some only manage to update their schedule weeks after it has gone into effect. Others give the job of compiling the schedule to someone who doesn’t have a clue about technical matters, and then they don’t bother to check it before publication. Sometimes errors and typos are never corrected.

I expect to see more apps from international broadcasters for the various mobile and handheld platforms. These will increase the chances of getting content to the younger generation, to whom conventional radio listening is considered old-fashioned. But the content has to be suitable, and I hope that international broadcasters will recognise the need to have young people on their staff who understand how to serve this generation. Too much international broadcasting content is still produced with the over 50s in mind.

Time warp
International broadcasters must accept that in general they are far less significant than they once were. For example, since 1947 RNW has had a Dutch service whose reach was high amongst its target group of Dutch expats. But since the advent of the internet, the information that RNW used to provide can be found on numerous websites, and the USP (unique selling point) of RNW’s Dutch service is no longer valid. Hence the painful decision to close it.

I have the impression that many of the people who have made a career out of international broadcasting have in effect entered a time warp, and they have failed to realise how much has changed in the world outside. I recall taking part in an experimental phone-in at RNW in the 1980s, and the newsreader told me that he’d been reading the news for 30 years and that was the first time he’d ever seen or heard any audience reaction.

I once met an experienced BBC World Service producer who admitted that he had never heard BBCWS on shortwave. I decided that I couldn’t – and indeed shouldn’t – work in the strategy department unless I had some regular contact with the audience, so that’s why I’ve also been working part-time on the English website.

Drops in the ocean
Those international services that survive to the end of the current decade will be the ones that can face up to the challenge of creating content that their potential audience wants, making sure that the content is distributed on appropriate platforms, and letting people know about it. They’ll have to work a lot harder to stand out from the crowd. Instead of being big fish in a small pond as they were on shortwave, they’re tiny drops in the internet ocean. I wish them success. International broadcasting has been my life for nearly 40 years, and it has given me friends around the world. Now I’m off to make some around here.

Andy Sennitt: The Media Network years – the noughties

Media Network, which covered international broadcasting developments at Radio Netherlands, recently ended a 30-year run on RNW. In a series of four articles, Andy Sennitt mentions some of the highlights, and then looks ahead to how international broadcasting might develop in the next ten years.

Part 3 of this series, “The Media Network Years: the noughties” is now available on RNW’s website

Andy Sennitt: The Media Network years the 1990s

Media Network, which covered international broadcasting developments at Radio Netherlands, recently ended a 30-year run on RNW. In a series of four articles, Andy Sennitt mentions some of the highlights, and then looks ahead to how international broadcasting might develop in the next ten years.

Part 2 of this series, “The Media Network Years: the 1990s” is now available on RNW’s website

Andy Sennitt: Looking back at 30 years of Media Network

RNW headquarters in Hilversum, Netherlands (photo coutesty: RNW)

Media Network, which covered international broadcasting developments at Radio Netherlands, recently ended a 30-year run on RNW. In a series of four articles, Andy Sennitt mentions some of the highlights, and then looks ahead to how international broadcasting might develop in the next ten years.

Part 1 is now available on RNW’s website. Part 2 will be published on May 1st 2012. This read is definitely worth your time.

Changes at Radio Netherlands Worldwide

Though I’m at least happy that RNW is making it their core mission to keep broadcasting to parts of the world where free speech is suppressed, I do fear how far the cuts may go beyond their Dutch broadcasts to expatriates. With 70% cuts in funding, future changes are likely to go beyond Dutch services and hurt many who live in remote, impoverished parts of the world where they rely on shortwave.

Andy Sennitt wrote the following about the RNW changes:

(Source: RNW)

As the clocks in Europe go forward to summertime, Radio Netherlands Worldwide is entering a period of drastic change which will see the closure of many services and the relaunch of the organisation with a much smaller staff. RNW will in future be specialising in producing material for audiences in countries with limited press freedom.

RNW will no longer be broadcasting to Dutch expatriates. The Dutch radio service will hold a 24-hour marathon broadcast on 10/11 May to mark the end of its 65 years of service.

Other services will be affected too – plans are still to be finalised, but Radio Netherlands Worldwide will cease to operate in a number of languages and other services, including this website, will be adapted to meet the new focus of promoting free speech.

All these changes have been forced on RNW by the Dutch government’s decision to slash our budget by 70 percent with effect from 1 January 2013. The budget will come from the Foreign Ministry rather than the Ministry of Education and Culture as at present. The editorial independence of RNW will remain sacrosanct.

More information about the changes will be published as soon as these are official.