The United States has condemned a Cambodian government order that bars local radio stations from broadcasting foreign news programs before July's general election.
The Cambodian information ministry has banned local radio stations from broadcasting content from foreign news media for 31 days prior to the July 28 election, in which Prime Minister Hun Sen will seek to extend his hold on power. The directive also ordered stations to stop carrying reports on foreigners playing any role in the campaign.
Among others, the restrictions affect U.S.-funded Voice of America and Radio Free Asia.
U.S. State Department spokesman Patrick Ventrell called the directive a serious infringement of press freedom and said it calls into question whether the vote will be free and fair. VOA Executive Editor Steve Redisch said reliable, accurate and balanced news and information are crucially important ahead of elections.
Cambodia's information ministry denied there is a ban on foreign radio broadcasts, because international radio broadcasts from outside Cambodia, either short wave or medium wave, are unrestricted.
The ministry said Saturday its action was intended to ensure unbiased election coverage by local FM and medium-wave radios. VOA said it is considering adding additional frequencies to its shortwave broadcasts to Cambodia in the days ahead.
Until now, VOA and RFA
programs have been re-broadcast by many FM stations in Cambodia.
A spokesman for Radio Free Asia has called the ban "the most sweeping and stunning frontal assault on media freedom in Cambodia in recent memory."
Cambodia's Hun Sen is one of the longest-serving prime ministers in the world - in power since 1985, through a series of coalition governments. He is expected to win the July 28 election.
A statement by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, which oversees VOA and RFA
, can be seen on the Internet at www.bbg.gov/blog/2013/06/28/bbg-condemns-foreign-media-ban-in-cambodia/.