Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Voice of Democracy To Resume Broadcasting Overseas, Unaffiliated with CCIM

Ith Sothoeuth, director of the Media Department of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), gives an interview to the media in front of VOD's office in Phnom Penh on February 13, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)
Ith Sothoeuth, director of the Media Department of the Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM), gives an interview to the media in front of VOD's office in Phnom Penh on February 13, 2023. (CamboJA/ Pring Samrang)

The government-shuttered media outlet Voice of Democracy (VOD) announced it will resume broadcasting from the United States beginning in October, according to a Tuesday press release posted on the VOD Khmer Facebook page.

“VOD remains upholding its independent principles and continuing its mission in providing true and comprehensive news to Cambodian people, and contribute to enhancing freedom of press and freedom of expression in Cambodia,” the statement read.

Former Cambodian Center for Independent Media (CCIM) executive director Pa Nguon Teang said he will serve as president of VOD’s operations, which will be headquartered in the city of Tacoma in Washington state. 

“We will broadcast through social media and we will keep the same formats as we did in Cambodia,” Nguon Teang told CamboJA via voice message.

“It does not involve CCIM because I have already left CCIM, so I can do what I want, it is my business,” he added.

Chhan Sokunthea, who has been CCIM’s executive director since Nguon Teang resigned from the position in early September, reiterated that CCIM was not involved in VOD’s plans to resume broadcasting. 

“For Pa Nguon Teang to take over VOD to resume broadcasting, it is his right because we have never published contrary to a decision of the [Information] Ministry,” she said.

The Information Ministry revoked VOD’s media license on February 13 after then-Prime Minister Hun Sen demanded an apology and retraction of a report stating that his son Hun Manet, then a Lieutenant General, had signed an authorization of aid to Turkey. Government spokesperson Phay Siphan was quoted as saying “it is not wrong for Hun Manet to play his father’s role in providing aid to Turkey.” 

The decision to revoke VOD’s license was “unfair” and “based on groundless reasons,” according to VOD’s press statement.

CCIM issued a public statement on Wednesday noting that after VOD’s Khmer and English websites were blocked, “all VOD activities have been discontinued and CCIM has never implemented contrary to this decision.” 

After VOD’s closure, CCIM launched Kamnotra, a database compiling publicly available records, which was blocked in July before the national elections, along with several media outlets.

University student Klaing Kimhuoy, 24, applauded after hearing that VOD would resume broadcasts and believed it could provide a safer operating environment and improve access to information for the public.

“I believe reopening VOD [overseas] is a positive development for press freedom and rights to access information because over the past VOD has played its role of providing multiple news, especially in-depth political stories and hot news on social issues,” he said.

“Obviously, I do not know their operation from abroad but I understand that remote broadcasting can be challenged a bit, especially to break away from some issues that occur locally which people are facing,” Kimhouy said.

Am Sam Ath, operations director of human rights group Licadho, expressed support for VOD’s broadcasting.

“It is a good thing when there is more radio on digital online for people exercising their opinion,” he said.

Government spokesperson Pen Bona referred questions to the Information Ministry, whose spokesperson Tep Ansnarith declined to comment when a CamboJA reporter reached him by phone, requesting questions be sent to his Telegram. 

“The Information Ministry does not have any comments beside the decision [to revoke the license] of VOD in the past,” he said in a voice message.

Nguon Teang has been based overseas since fleeing Cambodian in 2018 after the Phnom Penh Municipal Court charged him and others with embezzlement. Human Rights Watch stated that the charges were “in retaliation for being members of the funeral committee for Kem Ley”, referring to the outspoken political commentator assassinated in 2016.

VOD will broadcast a daily news program from 5:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m. ICT, beginning on October 2. The broadcasts will be published on Facebook, Youtube and TikTok, VOD’s statement noted.

“We do not have a problem with staff,” Nguon Teang said. “We can do it based on our ability, so we have enough ability to carry out our mission of providing true and comprehensive news to the people.”