Foreign broadcasters shut down for Cambodian elections

How far has democracy advanced in Cambodia?

Not very far.

Activists from three different political parties died during the 15-day campaign period leading up to the elections, in which the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won a large majority of seats, according to a report issued by the Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (Comfrel). The Phnom Penh Post ran articles on “allegations of intimidation, ghost voting, and electoral-roll sabotage” in the election, and the U.S. government-funded Voice of America (VOA) published a story headlined “Observers: Cambodian Vote Improved but Problems Remain.”

Comprel documented the various irregularities in the election–listing at least 100–but the U.S.-owned Radio Free Asia (RFA) and VOA brought to our attention one specific one: the silencing of the transmission of their broadcasts on five local FM stations on Sunday. The one-day ban also seemed to extend to Radio Australia and Radio France Internationale.

The decision to silence the overseas broadcasters was apparently made by the Ministry of Information and came with no advance warning. The government couldn’t silence shortwave signals coming into the country, but the shutdown of the FM signals was the most effective in urban areas, where the FM signals are strongest.

In an email message, RFA told us they were taken by surprise by the shutdown and that they had received no complaints from the government in the run-up to the voting. Authorities did not release a statement about the shutdown of the broadcasters.

RFA called it a giant step backward for the country. That seems about right.