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Media Environment Tipping: Groups

The loss of an opposition newspaper has further titled Cambodia's media environment in favor of the ruling party, damaging the free-and-fair potential of this year's national election, rights groups and opposition officials said Tuesday.

Publisher Thach Keth, who had made Sralanh Khmer, or Love Khmer, an opposition paper, announced Monday he was throwing his support behind the ruling Cambodian People's Party, effectively eliminating the paper from the dwindling opposition voice.

That left two newspapers and one local radio station as tacit supporters of the Sam Rainsy Party, further tipping media bias toward the CPP, officials said.

Boay Roeuy, editor-in-chief of Sralanh Khmer and a member of the Sam Rainsy Party, said Tuesday that currently there remain only two local newspapers and local radio station that support the Sam Rainsy Party: papers Moneaksakar Khmer, or Khmer Conscience, and Khmer Mchas Srok, or Khmer Homeland Owner; and radio FM 93.5.

The Sam Rainsy Party also rents time on Beehive Radio to air its one-hour, daily Voice of Candlelight program, he said.

He was not worried that even though the Sam Rainsy Party will have less newspapers now, he said, citing the 2003 national election, when the Sam Rainsy Party had less newspapers than the competition, CPP and Funcinpec, but still earned enough votes for 24 parliamentary seats.

Hang Chakra, publisher of Khmer Mchas Srok, who is not overtly politically affiliated, said his newspaper has been suspended for two weeks while he was busy abroad, but he expected it to start publishing again on Thursday.

The next issues will support the Sam Rainsy Party more vigorously than before, he said, adding that he was still satisfied with Sam Rainsy's leadership and was confident the party would not collapse due to recent defections.

Sok Sovann, president of the Khmer Journalist Democracy Association, which formed in 2002, said that publishers have a right to politicize newspapers, just as voters have a right to cast ballots.

All of TV, and most of radio and newspapers are biased toward the CPP, putting the system out of balance, Ouk Virak, president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said Tuesday.

Local radio is barely independent, including Beehive Radio and FM 95.5, a radio station based in Siem Reap, he said.

"When we don't have independent media, we see the result of democracy is not good, because the people cannot receive all kinds of information," he said.

A biased media system is unfair for national elections, as political parties are not granted access to the media, he said.

Eng Chhay Eang, secretary-general of the Sam Rainsy Party, said Tuesday that if the media system is biased to one party, elections cannot be free and fair, because the media is an important part of the election process.

"We appeal to the donor countries to put pressure on the government because we don't want the government to do as it will," he said. "Unless the media is balanced, the election can't be free and fair."