November 22, 2013
If Information Minister Khieu Kanharith is any indication, even the government is tiring of state television.
Mr. Kanharith announced on Facebook on Wednesday that he had personally ordered the state-run TVK channel to stop broadcasting the comings and goings of state officials on foreign excursions.
“This morning I ordered TVK not to broadcast stories about high-ranking ministry officials and their entourages that are sending them off on the trips or greeting them on their way back, except for in-person interviews about the important news,” Mr. Kanharith wrote in his post.
“Good news: A reform,” one commentator replied.
Mr. Kanharith said that trips abroad by Senate President Chea Sim, National Assembly President Heng Samrin, King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen would be exempt from the order.
TVK filled Thursday afternoon’s programming with broadcasts of CPP dignitaries in the Senate lauding the new national budget.
Moeun Chhean Nariddh, director of the Cambodian Center for Media Studies, said that the government’s decadesold confidence that it can broadcast what it wishes without losing viewers to competitors was waning.
“The media now has to do something to win over the support from the public, because ignoring important stories in their blackout now does not work,” Mr. Chhean Nariddh said.
“People are now looking to other channels, particularly to Facebook pages and other social media outlets,” he added.
He said even state officials themselves are tiring of the constant displays of pomp and protocol on television.
“They only watch themselves,” he said of the officials. “They have contact with the journalists and they try to make sure that their stories get on television.”
“It’s a good start for the Information Minister to remind journalists that there are more important stories they need to work on than broadcasting displays of government protocol.”
The CPP government’s slipping grip on information in the country as people turn away from state TV and toward online news has been put in the spotlight over the past two weeks.
Government spokespeople have struggled to maintain the narrative of a restrained police force falling victim to violent hooligans as a stream of videos uploaded by ordinary Facebook users and human rights monitors like Licadho have provided more compelling and informative viewing.
Footage uploaded to the social networking site last week showed police beating monks and unarmed civilians, firing pistols repeatedly in the direction of protesters and, in one case, threatening to kill and then dump the body of a student.
Mr. Kanharith did not respond to requests for comment over what would fill the gap left by the coverage of officials coming and going on foreign trips.
Mr. Chhean Nariddh, for his part, said he was hopeful the move by Mr. Kanharith was a sign the government was beginning to recognize the limitations of its authoritarian grip on broadcast media.
“He was a professional journalist for some time before he became information minister,” he said. “He knows what journalists should do and should not do.”